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True Story

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!


Mom Leontine (Tina) Elaine Carr: June 1, 1926 to April 18, 2013

On Wednesday night my mother, Leontine Carr, Tina, died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 86 and finally got to dance with my dad, Dabney Carr again. He had gone ahead of her in April of 2005 to get things ready. That was their usual system but she had missed him every day of those eight years. She was happy and having a good time right until the end, always entertaining someone with her stories and more and more Mom was remembering her younger days like what it was like to have a grandfather in rural Georgia who owned a candy store or to be a young mother with so many kids. There are five of us and my oldest sister, Diana did a great job of looking after Mom these past eight years, Linda and Cary kept in constant contact and sent presents along with my brother Dabney and we all visited and made sure she knew we loved her. She made a point her entire life of telling everyone else how much she loved us. In the end, that’s all there is. Dance with Dad in peace, Mom and we’ll do our best to honor your life in the way we live ours.


What the Campaign is About: I’m asking for help to raise $2,500 to self-publish my next book, a thriller called The List.

There are two ways to live a life – in theory or in practice. One involves talking about what might happen and the other requires taking risks and letting go of the outcome. I was stuck in the first camp for a long time, which meant I preferred to turn over most of the work, the rewards and what I saw as the risk of failure to a traditional publishing house. The results are Wired, The Sitting Sisters and A Place to Call Home – three great books that have been well received. It seemed like enough.

But then in 2009 I was told I had cancer and only a one percent chance of living longer than one more year. I walked out of the doctor’s office shaking, trying to come up with something comforting to say to my 21-year-old son, Louie. Instead, he looked at me and said very firmly, “You weren’t listening. They said there was hope.” Something clicked and I realized that I was going to have to figure out how to be present for every day I had left rather than stare at my death.

It turns out that for now the doctors were wrong about the year but I’ve had four more operations for cancer since then. I’ve had to learn how to live with cancer without making it the focus and to be grateful for the rewards that come along with being reminded that life isn’t a guarantee.

The biggest reward I’ve gotten so far is learning how to ask for help from friends and family. At times I’ve really needed it because I couldn’t walk very well or because my face was bandaged and I couldn’t speak. I’ve learned that help can also be about just needing comfort and company like watching a scary movie with friends or throwing together a potluck or learning how to ride a bike again. That one took four spectacular spills but eventually I stayed on the bike. This past year I even started acting like I plan to live a long time and lost 86 pounds.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

So, I’m doing my best to let go of old ideas about everything and learn to live in the moment. To make writing more about why I started – to share something – including the journey to get the book in your hands as well as every conversation afterwards. If you want to join in you can take a look at the different things you can get by making a donation. You can even be a part of what is turning into an amazing journey just by letting your friends know about The List Campaign. Share the link Or use the share buttons at the site.

Thank you so much for your ongoing love and support. I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next, whatever it is – and to walking through it, to enjoying it with all of you.

What the Book is About:

The List is a novel of suspense about a happy family caught between two old political powers that have always existed behind the scenes, invisible to most of the public. The two sides have battled over control for hundreds of years actively recruiting new members at a young age to groom them for politics, Wall Street, Corporate corner offices and the military. Good Old Boy networks, private clubs and political action committees were all formed with the same idea in mind to grease the wheels of life because we all want to ensure a nice, fat piece of the American pie, especially for our children. However, families find out a little too late that once they’ve joined there’s no out clause.


What You Can Do & What You Can Get*:

  • First Level: $25 – You receive a signed copy of The List.
  • Second Level: $35 – You receive a signed copy of The List and your name in the dedication.
  • Third Level: $50 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication AND a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper.
  • Fourth Level: $100 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper AND a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club.
  • Fifth Level: $250 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper, a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club and a character in The Keeper named after you. (Only two available at this level.)
  • Sixth Level: $500 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper and a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club, AND an appearance by me, to speak at an event** for the local charity of your choice. All proceeds from book sales on that day will go to your charity.


*All rewards will be processed after March 31st at the close of the campaign.

**Event to be organized by the person or group who chooses this level.


Photo by Jarod Carruthers

I’ve lost 86 pounds and have only five pounds to go, which is only half a dress size. It’s not like I’ve never been here before, in fact I’ve been here many times. However, all of the other times, it never occurred to me that it would take the exact same amount and kind of work as it did to lose the weight. I’m not sure how that nugget of knowledge eluded me for so long. I’m 53 years old after all. But in the past every time I lost the weight and got to a goal, I slowly went back to my old habits.

The real slide back toward being overweight began when a crisis occurred and I lost interest in eating. That’s right, lost interest, not gained interest in eating more. What I’ve discovered this go-around is that when I’m under stress I want to eat less and bother to cook even less than that and will reach for the easiest possible solution. That translated into processed food that came in a bag. Junk food in neon colors covered in varying amounts of sugar and salt.

A few interesting things to note this time in the weight loss phase. I’m actually eating more in terms of volume, a lot more and less in terms of calories, a lot less and the weight, even at 53 has come off easily and without the obsessions of the past. I’m not longer eating lunch while wondering what I’ll have for dinner. Food is in its proper perspective.

But maintenance is an entirely new topic and I’m a little freaked out. If you’ve been reading my column or blog for awhile you already know that any kind of big change unnerves me at first until I settle in, so no surprise. This is where I’d often sabotage things by procrastinating, or in general trying to fix something that didn’t need fixing.

Instead, I’m allowing myself to just be uncomfortable and approaching maintenance with the same kind of plan I had to lose the weight – a sensible and balanced food plan.

I’m sure there are people out there who can eat without having to figure out how much or exactly what to eat but I’m not one of them and I probably never will be. There are worse things to come to grips with and I’m letting that part go. In fact, there’s a certain amount of comfort in having a plan and knowing that will help me, this time, to stay within the range my body needs and to fuel my ever-more-promising future. More adventures to follow.



Hanging with my son, Louie, enjoying the day.

I have wondered for a very long time how anyone did anything that was good for them for longer than say six months, top. How do they keep going after all of the hurrah’s, good for you’s and the newness of a new place wear off?

Frankly, I don’t know because once the applause died down I found it too easy to slide right back to where I’d started and then some.

Regain the weight, and then some. Pile up the debt, and then some. Stop dressing up, and then some. Stop going out with friends, and then some.

It’s really easy especially when that little voice in the back of my head starts saying, what’s the point, are you really happy yet?

I was so convinced that happiness was a destination that when I got somewhere that garnered applause I was sure that this is where happiness resided. This is where all of those successful people found that little something that kept them going. When the feeling didn’t last I figured I wasn’t there yet and the idea of another long, arduous journey sunk me back into a feeling of hopelessness. I’d give up and slide backwards.

It never occurred to me that happiness can occur right where I stand and to bite off anything in life requires taking small bites, one right after the other, one day at a time. Not day after day, which sounds gargantuan and impossible, and is too much to take on in the face of that inevitable question – where will this get me? That’s an unanswerable question, by the way. Who knows?

But one day at a time, be right where you are, revel in it, enjoy the day. In other words, go local. That was great advice from my friend, Jesse Garza. Be right where you are and notice everything, enjoy everything, be a part of everything and know that it’s enough. Build from there instead of some unforeseen future or some distant past. Both are not happening right now. Besides, the future will probably look really different from what I expect and the past is my interpretation so who know if that’s accurate anyway.

It’s not always easy sticking to the present. Sometimes I feel like some of the bigger things I still want are stuck, mired in time that resembles mud. But then Jesse’s advice come’s back to me and I look around wondering what I can do today to be of service, get out of my head and actually have a little fun. Before I know it, things have changed as they always do and my life has grown bigger. As a bonus, I wasn’t whining about the past or the future to anyone along the way and I managed to be there for friends and family too. So, just for today I think I’ll put that rock down and go make cookies for that baby shower. More adventures to follow.


The 'new' Me at the end of summer (that's a herd of guinea pigs in the background)

The summer is officially over as of last Saturday and with that goes my first season of triathlon training. And by the way, no, I didn’t sign up for a triathlon this year. Like I said from the beginning, this year was all about figuring out how to stay on a bike, which if you’ve been following along took me a few tries and a really nice scar on my right ankle, learning how to swim faster, run faster and get to know some new people.

I did okay, not great, against my expectations, which is a victory.

To recap, I lost about 35 more pounds, bringing the total to 75 pounds lost so far and only 15 to go till maintenance. Also known as the Promised Land. I’ve been at that weight before but the idea of working at staying that weight is the new part. I really didn’t get that maintenance would take just as much forethought, till now.

But, now it’s the Fall Season and I live in Chicago, which means soon it will get very, very cold outside and if I don’t care to go backwards and regain weight I’ll need a new plan of action.

It’s a tiny bit tempting to take a break but I’ve done that enough and I know that’s a slippery slope. Better to get started before my entire brain even catches on that sitting down was a possibility.

I already belong to a great gym that’s in my neighborhood that just put in a pool, has an erg (rowing machine) and classes at ungodly early hours and late at night. No excuses. Next week, I set out to create a new pattern and see what happens. The weight lifting class and the boxing are my first stops. I’ll let you know how it goes. More adventures to follow.


Me and Mom

It took me five years to return home, to visit my mother. That’s a long time, I know, and causes a lot of curiosity about all of my reasons. Often, reasons are a distraction; labels that give a justification why I’m not doing something.

I’d count up the years and after awhile not going even seemed like my new normal. I’d hear others talk about their holiday visits home and I felt no connection. It was easier to stay away, it was that simple. However, something else was growing on the inside at the same time.

Faith in something better.

That faith got me to start making a phone call to my mother at least once a week when normally we spoke every six months, or even more. A kernel of hope or optimism that God really does exist and really is unconditional Love got me to ignore the conversations that would have normally wounded me and I changed the subject instead. Maybe there was more to learn.

Forgiveness carried me the rest of the way. Not the kind of forgiveness where I judged my mother and decided I would let it go. That’s still me standing on high and deciding not only am I better in general, I’m really compassionate too. Look at me.

My mother, my son

I was learning through action a subtler kind of forgiveness that has more to do with myself and what I’m capable of, including letting go of all that’s happened, didn’t happen and live in the day I’ve been given, instead.

What matters is I returned home, which just means the place where my mother lives now, and spent a long weekend sitting next to her, driving her around and just being without wanting something in return. I was even reminded that she has a wicked sense of humor and often goes out of her way to be fair, even generous.

The strangest part I’ve found is that when I go into anything without expectations the riches find me and I walk away with more than I ever expected. All of the grasping generally leaves me with less.

The place where all of the resentment and anger sat is left empty for God to fill. A vacuum is always filled. More adventures to follow.


Chef Ashley Runner showing Martha how to 'shock' vegetables without killing them off.

I started cooking differently, which means at all, on October 26th of last year. That’s the day I finally decided to change a few things about myself from the inside out and it came out as more vegetables, smaller portions and nothing processed. So far, that also means 70 fewer pounds and a size 22 to a size 10.

My first attempts at cooking, like I said last week, resulted in a lot of braised pans, charred steaks, mushy vegetables and very dry chicken. For some reason I just kept going this time and pushed through all of those horrible weeks of trying to learn how to cook.

But even as the meat became more tender and the vegetables weren’t so limp, the bland factor was still pretty high. Everything kind of tasted the same.

Just last week, however, I learned that my friend, Ashley has been a professional chef and loves to teach newbies like me how to make great dishes with affordable ingredients and not a lot of time.

In just two hours we made pork chops with granny smith apples and cabbage, roasted red peppers with basil and scallions, a vegetable tartlet without the tart that has eggplant, tomato, red onion and squash, asparagus and baby bok choy shocked vegetables with an orange and ginger dressing, and acorn squash with oyster mushrooms. It was all so easy that I could do it again without wondering how we got to the ending and it was in my budget.

My refrigerator is now full and I will be the envy of everyone at the office tomorrow.

Vegetable Tartlet (without the tart)

Slice two red onions, a small eggplant, two yellow squash and three roma tomatoes. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a tart pan or baking dish. Arrange the vegetables and top with fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil over the top. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Baste with the juices and bake for 20 more minutes. Voila!

Thank you, Ashley for being a part of this journey and helping me to continue to change. Seventy pounds lost so far, more adventures to follow.

Ashley Runner is available for private cooking lessons – leave a comment here if you live in the Chicago area and would like to learn more.


Ready, set, go get a life.

One of the reasons I’ve slipped so often in the past on the way to my goal of a healthy lifestyle is that I slowly stop doing what was working. Sounds crazy but it’s so easy to do.

One week I’m running, biking and swimming and the next I’m biking and swimming because there was a meeting I had to get to or it was 95 degrees outside. Sounds reasonable and everyone in that meeting thought they should be the priority. Come on, you can’t do everything, right?

Then it gets easier to shave it back just a little further. I’ll work out on the weekends but in the afternoon so I can finally sleep in a little. Before I knew it I was idle again, had lost all of that muscle I’d put on and was starting to eat from the wrong parts of the grocery store.

Here are the questions I was forgetting to ask myself:

How much time have I gotten back because I’m not so tired or move far more slowly? Do those hours add up to more than the hours I’m working out? How much better do I feel about life in general because I feel better about myself and the way I look? How much easier has it been to keep on taking contrary actions and following my dreams because I feel better? Do I want to take a lot of medications when I’m older or do I want to still be running down the road? Do I want to be biking and chatting with some new friends at 6:30 in the morning, which means going to bed a little earlier or do I want sleep in because I was out at a loud bar the night before where I couldn’t hear anything and then walk around for the first few hours like I’m only half awake?

Fortunately, when the idea of slowing down struck me this summer my new biking friends like Ruth and Piper kept sending me annoying text messages asking me where I was and what did I think I was doing??!! Yes, there were extra question marks and exclamation points. They’re very hard to ignore and so, this Saturday there I was again standing in a parking lot at 6:30 getting ready to set out. Thank goodness. I’ve been told that this will continue in perpetuity. Now those are the kind of friends that can help me to really live. More adventures to follow.


Photo by Nick Bianco

I’ve been battling my weight in some fashion since I was twelve years old and was already 5’9, which made me stand out and get attention. I was too young to understand exactly why I was getting noticed or what to do with it. I wasn’t even sure it was something I should want.

The desire to figure it out while not losing the attention led to stretches of barely eating anything day after day to maintain a rail-thin like quality with equal amounts of years of eating till I was sick and throwing myself into the obese category. The outside package may have looked different to an observer but the brain or maybe the spirit inside was the same. I was obsessed with body image and was mistakenly thinking that in order to achieve my goals everything started from the outside, in.

Intellectually, we all know that’s not true. There have been enough talk shows with weepy people talking about how they finally learned that change has to start from within but if I have decades of practice with one way of doing things till I don’t even notice anymore, how do I translate any of that into actually changing?

I’ve thrown a lot of money, effort and obsessive thinking at getting the right body, whatever that meant at the time and it worked a lot of the time but never for longer than a handful of years.

This time I’ve added in a spiritual element, friends and accountability and the biggest change is the lack of obsession. I still have days that are way too long where I notice desserts way too much. But this time I call someone who reminds me of a few truths till my brain and my spirit come back together. I’m 9 months in so far and 70 pounds lighter. Frankly, I feel even lighter than that while at the same time I’m startled every time I pass a mirror. More adventures to follow.