Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | September 30, 2014

Hope: On Sale Now at Trader Joe’s

I was wading in a pool of despair. I’d spent the night in the hinterlands of Northfield, Minnesota. I’d eaten dinner at a restaurant that was worthy of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, although the place was packed and seemed prosperous, a telling indication of the culinary discretion in Northfield. We sat on the patio with a stunning view of the parking lot. The food was mediocre, but the flies were exceptional. I kept hearing Chef Ramsay’s voice in my head screaming “Disgusting!”

I spent the night at one of Northfield, Minnesota’s finest resorts, the AmericInn. THE AMERICINN. Although it hinted at cleanliness, I couldn’t shake the fear of bedbugs. Phantom itches plagued me all night. In the morning, I roused myself with hot water that had, at some point, come in contact with coffee. I sat at a small faux wood table, alternately gazing at the institutional carpeting and contemplating the offerings of the free breakfast buffet. Should I go for the cereal that was ardently trying to be confused with Special-K? Or should I grab a banana nut muffin even though I was certain it contained neither? Feeling in need of protein, I settled on the pancake-shaped disks that were made of something that once resembled eggs. Adjacent to the Scrambled “Egg” Rounds were sausages that appeared to have been rolled in extra lard, just to make their greasy shine that much more lustrous. I left hungry and under-caffeinated.

Fortunately, I managed to find a decent falafel sandwich later in the day, which fortified me for the marathon wait at Minneapolis airport where I, along with 150 new friends, waited out a weather delay in Denver. We finally boarded the plane and I settled into the second to last row. THE SECOND TO LAST ROW. An hour into the flight, the pilot asked the flight attendants to take their seats because we were heading into some rough weather. The flight attendants did as told, but not before several of my 150 new best friends began vomiting. The flight attendants scurried up and down the aisles not with Rum and Cokes but with napkins and plastic bags. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was heading on a vacation to an exotic destination, preferably someplace warm, with fresh local food prepared by professionally trained chefs, maybe Gordon Ramsay himself. And decent coffee. In this fantasy, I was flying first class. A jarring drop in altitude knocked me back to reality.

A storm raged just outside the thin metal of the fuselage. There was no doubt that the wings would shear right off the plane; it was just a matter of time. I wondered which type of crash had a higher survival rate: land or water. I assessed the physical fitness of every person between me and the exit door, determining who would be easy to push aside and who might put up a fight. I targeted those individuals whom I could simply crawl over. I decided I’d be a hero and snatch the baby across the aisle on my way out. “Woman Saves Infant in Deadly Plane Crash.” I imagined that the barrage of lightning outside the window was the flash of paparazzi bulbs at the press conference. I decided that if the mother died, I would raise the child as my own. It was the least I could do. Except then I remembered that in about 17 years I’d have to take him on college visits and stay at the AmericInn and eat fake eggs for breakfast. I had second thoughts. I’d still save him from the burning plane, mind you, but I’d turn him over to a loving aunt after that. Let her worry about bedbugs.

Upon arrival at DIA, I left my would-be infant behind without a word and hustled into the terminal, resisting the urge to kiss the ground, reminding myself that carpet was filthy and God only knows where all those people have been walking. I arrived home hungry but nauseated. I fretted over my next trip, coming up in less than a week. Could I handle the Days Inn, sure to be a repeat of the AmercInn, but with better spelling? Or should I upgrade to the Embassy Suites in order to get scrambled “eggs” that were, at the very least, cooked to order? Could I withstand the sandpaper-like bath towels and “coffee” with non-dairy creamer? When I decided to have kids all those years ago, why did no one warn me about the tedium of college tours? A bleak future, bereft of decent food, stretched in front of me.

And then I remembered the Petit Basque I’d discovered at Trader Joe’s that was waiting for me at home. For $10.99 a pound, it’s half the price Whole Foods charges for manchego. MANCHEGO, the Velveeta of Spain. The Petit Basque was a gift, a sign. I had the strength. I could go on.

I paired the Petite Basque with an ’07 Willamette Valley Pinot and dug up some Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps. I felt it all wash off me – the Kitchen Nightmares restaurant, the scratchy towels, the imagined bedbugs, the sad but real powdery “egg” disks, the CoffeeMate, the turbulence, the vomiting passengers. I still haven’t decided if I’ll be staying at the Days Inn or the Embassy Suites, or heck, maybe I’ll rack up loyalty points at another AmericInn on my next trip. But I know that if I can navigate my generic white sub-compact rental car to a Trader Joe’s, I can find Petite Basque. And all will be right with the world.

Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | August 8, 2014

Inspiration Friday

Thirty years ago this week, Joan Benoit won the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon. Post knee-surgery, no less. Guess I should stop whining about knee pain. 


This is my favorite video related to running. Or anything else, for that matter. Enjoy. 



Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | July 25, 2014

You Won’t Believe Where I’ve Been

Fat prairie dog


I’ve been remiss in updating this blog. Why? Well, I could admit that I’ve sorely neglected my running and my writing over the past few months. I could say that I fell out of habit during the move to Colorado. I could confess that I’ve simply been lazy, undisciplined, lacking in motivation. Or I could tell the truth: I was kidnapped by prairie dogs.


It all started on the very first day I arrived in Colorado, while I was driving to our new house. I got off the highway and as I came down the exit ramp, a cute little furry thing ran across the road. I braked and swerved to avoid him, but the little bugger switched direction at the last minute and ran straight under my tires. I felt a tug on the steering wheel, coupled with the dreaded “thump,” and I knew I’d done it. I’d murdered an overgrown gerbil. But it wasn’t my fault! He ran under the car! There was no way to avoid him! It was like he WANTED to die. Rodent suicide, it was. Still, I was devastated. For about a minute, and then I got to the house and started unpacking and didn’t really think much about the deceased vermin.


Until a few weeks later.


I was out for my morning run, which – since I was still adjusting to the altitude – consisted of short bouts of jogging interspersed with long periods of swearing. I had just finished a string of profanities when I heard chirping sounds, like a swarm of mutant birds about to attack. I looked around and realized that I had veered into the middle of a prairie dog town, surrounded by ferret-looking things standing on mounds of dirt. I could sense the hostility, the way they bared their little buck teeth at me and chirped aggressively. I turned to make a hasty retreat, but one of them ran under my feet and tripped me. As I lay on the ground, I saw another rodent pick up a rock and aim at my head. Then everything went blank.


It must have taken hundreds of them to drag me into their den. I assume they’d been planning the attack for weeks, because let’s face it, there’s no way I’d fit down a standard-size rodent hole. I can only imagine the labor required to dig an entrance large enough to fit yours truly.


At the risk of sounding like I have Stockholm Syndrome, I must note that they were very courteous kidnappers. They gave me plenty of grass to eat and even brought the occasional flowering plant as a special snack. They took the time to create an extra large burrow for me, complete with a bed and makeshift chair. I was rather irked that there was no HBO or even electricity but hey, kidnap victims can’t be choosers.


prairie dog eating


It took a while for me to get the hang of the language, but eventually I was able to converse with them. Did you know prairie dogs have an extensive vocabulary, second only to humans? And really, you won’t believe what they’re saying about us.


I’m not sure how long I was in captivity, but when I got kidnapped, “Gravity” was in theaters, and by the time I was released, it was on Netflix. That’s a long time to eat nothing but grass.


When I learned they were putting me on trial for Herman’s murder (apparently that was the deceased’s name), I was nervous it might be a sham, a kind of kangaroo court. But then they explained that kangaroos are marsupials, not related to prairie dogs at all. So unrelated, in fact, they don’t even get together at Christmas.


Still, even if prairie dogs aren’t in the same family as kangaroos, how did I know what kind of justice they might mete out? Fortunately, my public defender was great. I explained that I tried to avoid hitting Herman, but he’d changed course at the last moment.


“Ah, the classic Rodent Reverse Shuffle,” my attorney said. “Squirrels try it, but prairie dogs are the masters. We can turn on a dime. Unfortunately, car-driving humans don’t anticipate it. Sad to say, accidents like these happen all the time.”


The trial didn’t take long. The prosecutor chirped quite a bit, and then my attorney chirped back, and in less than an hour, the jury chirped out their verdict.


I was cleared of all charges and free to go. Once they expanded the exit tunnel for me, that is. Turns out, grass is high in carbs.


prairie dog







People (i.e., my mother) keep asking me if I’ve signed up for any races out here in Colorado, because my M.O. is to see an event announcement, say “oh, that sounds fun,” and sign up without stopping to think if it really will be fun or if it will be a miserable experience that leaves my vomiting and/or crying. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep my signupaholism in check since I arrived. And I have a very good reason: I can’t breathe here.

People warned me about the elevation, telling me it will take time to get used to it, that it will make me tired at first, that it takes three months for the body to acclimatize. “Whatever,” I said. (Well, I didn’t say that, because I’m much too polite, but I thought it and added an imaginary eye-roll.) After all, I have experience in the mountains. Granted, I moved here from pancake-flat Chicago, elevation 0, but in Montana we live at about 2900 feet. Here we’re at about 5600. What’s a measly 2700 feet going to do, kill me?

Yes, quite possibly.

Any kind of exertion now leaves me gasping for breath. This is what I sound like when I run here in Colorado

No wonder it has been hard for me to make friends. Every time I encounter people, they are probably alarmed by my panting and worried that I might die right in front of them. As it turns out, though, wheezing like an injured walrus has it’s benefits.

On my regular running route, there is what the locals might terms a slight incline. Since I come from Chicago, I call it the Sears Tower. The elevation gain is 60 feet total over about a quarter-mile. I know the trail runners out there will call that a mere mound, but to me, that’s double the Eden’s overpass, which is about as hilly as I can handle. Fortunately, I’m slowly getting used to running up said hill/mountain. I approach it with small steps, a loose upper body, and an inspiring manta: “KILL ME NOW.”

One day I was running (ok, walking) up, and I made it about halfway before I stopped to catch my breath. Apparently, my grunting and groaning attracted some attention. I must have sounded like this

because as I stood panting/gasping/wheezing/whining, I saw a little brown head pop up over the ridge next to the path.

A cow elk. And she was looking at me with love in her eyes. She came over the ridge to get closer and check me out.

I could see her assessing me, giving me the once over to see if I’d do, like it was inching toward closing time and the bartender had announced last call. We made eye contact across the grassy hillside. I swear I heard music swelling in the background. Was that Kenny G?

She took stock of my white baseball hat – not particularly antler-like. She sniffed the air, taking in the odor of sweat mixed with Secret Solid Lavender Scent (which at that point had clearly diminished in effectiveness; note to self, try the Secret Sports Formula). Then she finally lowered her gaze to my pink Kinvaras, at which point I think she realized she’d been duped, because what kind of bull elk has pink hooves? She took off down the trail.

“Wait!” I called after her. “Can’t you at least give me a ride to the top of the hill?”

Three months to reach acclimatization. One down, two to go.


Pretty sure this is the elk equivalent of twerking.


“Come back! We can make it work!”

Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | July 18, 2013

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

Forgive me, Hippocrates, for I have sinned. I have lied to my physician.

That’s so wrong, isn’t it? I can just see Marcus Welby, MD, looking at me with a scowl. “Now Sue, you should never lie to a doctor.”

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 9.53.15 AM

Imagine all the doctors I’ve disappointed. Dr. Strangelove. Dr. Zhivago. Dr. Eckleburg. Dr. Fu Manchu. Dr. Doolittle. A phalanx of frowning physicians.

Of course, I like to think that I didn’t lie per se. I prefer to think of it as being vaguely misleading because I was wrapped in my own cloak of denial.

You see, it took me a little while to get around to seeing a doctor about the Little Something in my foot. Basically, I procrastinated until I was unable to walk without limping and muttering “ouch, ouch, ouch” with every step.

I was rather vague on the phone when the receptionist asked what the problem was – just some foot pain, needed to see the doctor, etc. I didn’t want to commit to any particular narrative. Then, as I sat in the exam room, the paper cover crinkling under me as I shifted uncomfortably on the exam table, it was time to tell the doctor exactly what was going on.

I have some foot pain.

The ball of the foot.

In the middle. Yes – ouch! – right there.

No, there was no sudden trauma.

No, no bruising that I saw.

Well, it’s been going on for a while.

Yes, at least several days.

Um, yes, I guess it’s been going on for over a week.

How long exactly? Probably more like a couple of weeks.

Actually, now that I think about it, it’s been several weeks.

I suppose you could say a couple of months.

(Truth be told, it started last October. But don’t tell the doctor that.)

Yes, I know, I’m an idiot. But I kept thinking my foot issue would get better. I hoped it might miraculously go away. After all, it just showed up one day out of the blue, so why not think it might just disappear too? Things like that happen. Sometimes.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “denial” as sticking one’s big fat head in the sand and ignoring reality until sand starts to go up one’s nose and into one’s lungs, causing one to black out. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

Fortunately, when I finally succumbed to the pain and went to the doctor, I discovered that my foot was neither broken nor permanently damaged. I just had a neuroma. Not such a big deal. No boot, no crutches required. Certainly not something that justified living in pain for the better part of a year.

You would think as a result of this experience that I’d learn my lesson and ditch my denial/avoidance habits. But no. You see, I’ve been in denial about other things. Big things. Like the fact that we are moving to Colorado. Yes, it’s time to close the Chicago chapter and move to another time zone, making it even more difficult to figure out when it’s a good time to call my family on the East Coast.

The denier in me thinks “Moving will be fun! We’ll get to try new restaurants and new museums and do all sorts of sightseeing touristy things and go hiking and biking and do all kinds of fun activities. It will be just like going on vacation!”

Sadly, I know the reality is that moving is nothing like going on vacation. In fact, moving is a lot of work. It’s organizing and packing and cleaning, followed by cleaning and unpacking and organizing. It involves crying and saying goodbye to friends and sobbing over the fact that I’ll never again be able to get my favorite roasted veggie sandwich at my favorite local lunch spot. It means finding a new doctor, a new dentist, a new place I can get a pedicure where they won’t wrinkle their noses at my ugly, calloused runner’s feet. It means finding a new book group, a new writers’ group, a new running partner, and someone with whom I can go to the movies and drink wine (not necessarily at the same time, although that’s not a bad idea). I have to find new friends, create a new community, find a new favorite sandwich place.

So, I’ve been limping along, denying the inevitable upheaval.

But now here it is. The move is upon us. After several weeks of organizing and packing and cleaning and saying sad, tearful goodbyes, our stuff is in Colorado and it’s time for me to clean and unpack and organize and figure out how to get to the grocery store without getting lost. I’m nervous. Will people like me? Will I fit in? How do I adapt to life in Colorado? How do I blend with the locals? And then it hit me – the solution to make me fit right in. So, please excuse me while I rush off to my John Denver Appreciation Class. Everybody, sing it with me!

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