Just Run: Celebrating Boston and the Strength of Our Running Community

You may have noticed the “radio silence” on my blog (as my writing and blogging friend Melissa so aptly put it). There are many reasons it has been quite here, but one of the main ones is that I’ve been working on putting together my new running blog. It’s called Run Be Run (www.runberun.com).

I’m sharing one of my first posts here with you now, which celebrates the strength and diversity of the running community. If you like what you see and you’re interested, you can swing by my new site and check out what’s brewing. I’d love to know what you think.

I’m still planning to continue with this blog too–hopefully more consistently. I’ve missed being here and connecting with all of you!

Run Be Run

If the goal of the Boston bombers was to defeat the human spirit, clearly marathon runners were the wrong group to target.

They accomplished nothing with their cowardly explosives last year.

That’s right. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

They did not weaken us by their senseless act, but only made us stronger, more fierce, determined and connected. They didn’t scare anyone away, but instead bolstered an endless pool of support for Beantown and every other major marathon city out there, inciting legions of runners from all around the world to train harder just to qualify for Boston this year.

On April 21st, thirty-six thousand runners, the largest field ever, will run the Boston Marathon, despite the bombers. And not one person will give them a moment’s thought. They will be busy celebrating the honor of running in one of our sport’s most prestigious races, and reveling in the joy of being part of one of the strongest…

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Leaping Lizards! An Extra 24-Hours? What’s a Girl to Do?

Woohoo! The gift of an extra day? There is no better present, as far as I’m concerned.

Julius Caesar GraphicThank you Leap Year! Or more accurately, thank you, Julius Caesar. I know your brilliant idea of adding an extra day to the calendar every four years had absolutely nothing to do with my foot-long To Do List, but whatever the case, I’ll take it, and send you a heart-felt high-five and “Hail Caesar.”

What do I plan to do with my extra twenty-four hours? Brace yourself, this chick is on a mission–a mission to max out her day.

You might be envisioning an Academy Award-Winning Tasmanian Devil impersonation where I tear through my house, cleaning out the refrigerator or the fish tank, paying bills, doing laundry, trying to write my next chapter, organize the launch of our ebook, and bust out 30 miles on my bike–all before I pick my daughter up from school. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Nope.

Not. Even. Close.

I plan to pack my extra twenty-four hours with nothing but slothful bliss. I am officially jumping off the To Do List bandwagon today and taking a day to refuel.

Aahhh, I feel lighter already just typing those words.

As a mom, a wife, a writer, and a person who occasionally wears a few too many hats, I find myself perpetually racing the clock, trying to get stuff done, and admittedly feeling frustrated when I’m interrupted or when I don’t get it done in the amount of time I think it should take.

Can anybody else relate to this or is this just my genetic defect?

Okay, maybe don’t answer that.

Whatever the case, in the process of continually trying to tackle my To Do List, my effervescent personality…well, let’s just say…may not be as effervescent as it could or should be.

What? I know, impossible.

My darling eight-year old would definitely say, “POSSIBLE,” as would my extremely patient husband. Yep, they’ve put up with my wound-too-tight-ness a bit too long.

Soooo…for the next 24-hours, on this gift of an extra day, I am slowing it down and taking life at a snail’s pace.

What’s ahead for this snail, you ask?

A whole lot of snail-i-ness.

Okay, so maybe snails don’t set their alarms for 5:00 am, but that’s what I plan do again tomorrow because it is an exquisite time of day; a time when silence wraps its savory soul around my creativity. Mother Nature is usually at her best at this hour too. When you have this view out your window, and a colossal cup of rich, dark roast coffee, and two uninterrupted hours of writing time, what more could you want–especially when you’re kicking off a “bonus” day?

View out my window when writing at dawn

After I write, then drop Twinkle Toes off at school, I’ll probably go on a leisurely bike ride; one with no mileage or pace goals–just a fabulous spin, riding wherever I want, for as long (or short) as I want, at whatever speed I want.

After that, if I’m able to steal my husband away from his art project, I’ll take him out for coffee or lunch and ply him with sweet nothings–especially for putting up with me for so long.

Next? Perhaps a beach walk or a pedicure, and chocolate consumption. Yes, definitely some dark chocolate caramel consumption. Then…

Oh no, my snail’s list is suddenly starting to take on the familiar sound of a To Do List.

Clearly, this could take some time.

Happy Leap Day everybody. What are your plans for this extra day?

The Other Man: An Unlikely Valentine’s Love Story

Heart GraphicLove. Passion. Amore. It’s impossible to define it in its infinite forms, even though its power shapes nearly everything about us.

On this Valentine’s Day I feel compelled to tell you about a man who continually sets my heart on fire and leaves me weak in the knees with his passion.

This man, by the way, is in serious competition with my husband.

Okay, I confess: I’ve been fooling around.

I can picture the disgusted looks on your faces as you read this news. But try not to think too badly of me, even if this affair has been going on for nearly fifteen years.

It might make you happy to know that this “other man” whom I adore so much, has never once brought me roses or chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Nor has he toasted with me champagne, pampered me with peeled grapes or showered me with sweet nothings. In fact, he has never even uttered a word to me.

The name of this quiet man? Fred.

If you’re concerned about my darling husband, don’t worry, he’s okay with Fred. He even supports my flings with him.

You see, Fred is a driving force in the battle against cancer.

His full name is Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, and also the founder of Fred’s Team, an organization supporting runners who dream of a world without cancer.

In early 1990, after a long illustrious running career, Fred Lebow was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was determined to use his passion for running as a means to battle this insidious disease, and designated Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as the New York City Marathon’s first official charity.

Fred's Team LogoHis program, simply named Fred’s Team, encouraged runners to gather pledges for each mile they ran and donate it to MSKCC.

Since 1995 Fred’s Team has raised more than $45 million for pioneering research.

How did I fall head-over-heels for Fred?

Simple. Cancer drove a truck through my heart when I was eighteen years old. My dad, who was just 51 at the time, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died six months later–just a few weeks into my freshman year of college.

A decade later, that same semi-truck looped back around and plowed into my heart once again. This time it was my mom who was stricken by the disease. Her breast cancer left me dazed, my heart barely pumping. All I could do was watch helplessly (long-distance, no less) as she suffered through painful surgery and treatments.

It’s then I dragged my running shoes out of the closet and fell in love with Fred–or more accurately Fred’s Team, and what it represented.

I’d always loved running, but my shoes hadn’t logged more than five miles in a good long while. Somehow lacing them up again and putting one foot in front of the other helped me sort through my anger, grief and frustration. It also helped remind me of my inner strength—even if setting a goal like the New York City Marathon was so absurd I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words to a soul, except for my husband.

When I joined Fred’s Team though, I realized that it was impossible to raise money for cancer research if you didn’t tell people what you’re doing. Eventually I built up my courage and began sending out letters. Unnerving is the best way to describe it–especially since asking people for money is one of my least favorite things to do.

When I confided in a good friend that I felt like I was bragging when I told people I was running a marathon, she gave me sage advice: “Just remember this is not about you. It’s much bigger than you, so get over it!”

And I did.

Donations immediately began pouring in—along with words of encouragement and stories of how cancer had affected many of my supporters. People blew me away with their generosity.  It seems everybody knew somebody who had been knocked down by this disease.

With each mile I logged and each dollar I collected, my heart slowly began to heal. No longer did I feel powerless against the disease I loathed so much. By raising funds to support researchers working hard to find a cure, I felt like I could finally face cancer and say, “GAME ON, SUCKER!”

That was fourteen years ago, and I have not looked back since.

Since then I’ve run eight marathons (NYC-three times, Paris, Rome, Portland, Santa Barbara-twice), two triathlons, and also participated in a 400-mile cycling event through the Colorado Rockies. With the help of many extraordinary supporters I’ve raised over $60,000 for cancer research.

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson at the finish of the 1998 NYC MarathonBecky Green Aaronson running the 1999 New York City Marathon

Running the Santa Barbara Marathon, fundraising for cancer researchBecky Green Aaronson after the 2002 Paris MarathonBecky Green Aaronson cycling during Ride the RockiesBecky Green Aaronson during the Carpinteria TriathlonBecky Green Aaronson at the finish of the Santa Barbara TriathlonPhoto of Becky Green Aaronson running the Portland MarathonBecky Green Aaronson running the Santa Barbara MarathonPhoto of Becky Green Aaronson running the 2003 Rome Marathon

And now Fred and I are getting ready for our next tryst . This time we’ll be participating in a 50-mile cycling event in Solvang, California on March 10th.

Why do I keep doing this? Unfortunately that careening truck keeps smashing into my heart.

My mom survived her initial bought with breast cancer, but later died of colon cancer. My Auntie Katie also died of cancer in 2010. Auntie Margie died of cancer in 2011 as well as Aunt Bertha. Cousins, uncles, friends, colleagues, neighbors–nobody is immune. Every day it’s somebody new. Steve Jobs, Baby Lexi (read my friend Jessica’s story here to learn more), my friend Molly, my other friend A, my friend, Angie’s dad. It goes on and on. But I refuse to give in to this beast, and I hope you will join Fred and me in trying to kick its ass.

If you’d like to know more about Fred’s Team or if you’d like to support my upcoming half-century cycling event, click on this link: Becky’s Ride for Fred’s Team

Love is what drives us as human beings. And love is what drives me to continue doing what I do.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Fred. Thanks for being my “other man” for some many years. Your passion and commitment still move me.

Fred's Team Lobo

In the Name of Love: A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wasn’t born when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech during that tumultuous summer of 1963 when a quarter million people marched on Washington, but King’s inspiring words have floated around in my head much of my adult life.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr._______________

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

_______________

King’s ideas, and more so, his actions, have stood as a powerful reminder that even the most insurmountable challenges can be conquered when one person’s dreams are fueled by passion and commitment.

• • •

For the past several days I’ve spent numerous hours trying to write a meaningful tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., agonizing over each word, nuance, and angle. But nothing I created felt worthy of Dr. King and all the extraordinary things he did.

I wanted so badly to get this tribute right that I continually got it wrong. My words weren’t powerful enough nor my ideas brilliant enough, or my approach passionate enough to adequately honor somebody who changed so much for our country.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr. in jailMy daughter, Olivia, watched as I sat at my computer, struggling with my thoughts. She watched as I listened to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube, feeling the emotion I was trying to put into words. She watched as I played U2’s music video, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”—one of my all-time favorite songs. Then she watched as I closed the lid on my laptop and gave up.

I tried to ignore the crummy feeling that immediately washed over me, but I couldn’t. I had let myself down (particularly since I was trying to honor somebody whose character was the epitome of strength, determination and persistence), and I had also set a horrible example for my daughter. Nothing about it felt okay.

What came next though changed everything.

Olivia came back into my office a few minutes later, put her arms around my neck, then said, “I think we should do something special.”

I was so deep in my self-flagellating thoughts that I merely placated her with, “Hmmmm,” not even thinking about what she was trying to say.

Olivia, who is nothing but persistent, tried once again to get my full attention and shake me out of my glum mood, repeating subtly, “I THINK WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING SPECIAL.”

Finally, I snapped backed in a semi-annoyed voice–not wanting to play the guessing game, “Do something special for what?”

“You know, Mom…uh…Martin Luther King.” (duh!).

That’s all she had to say to make everything right. I couldn’t put into words how important this man was to me, or to our nation, but my 8-year old instinctively knew, and wanted to honor him.

Photo of a candle flameAt dinner we symbolically lit candles and talked about Dr. King and all he did. We talked about the difficulties he faced and how he changed our nation by pursuing his dream of equality with passion and commitment.

Photo of Rosa parksThen Olivia said, “Tell me about Rosa Parks.” When my husband explained that she was arrested because she wouldn’t give up her seat for a white person and go to the back of the bus, Olivia said, “Are you kidding me? That makes no sense.”

The fact that she could not comprehend this way of thinking said everything.

It reminded me of when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Olivia was just five years old, but Jeffrey and I kept her home from preschool that day so she could watch Obama’s historic inauguration with us on TV.

Photo Barack Obama inaugurationWhen Olivia saw tears trickling down my cheeks, she cocked her head and said, “Mommy, why are you crying? Aren’t you happy that Bawack Obama is pwesident?”

I had to explain to her that I couldn’t have been happier or more proud of our country. We were finally living up to our creed that all men are created equal.

Jeffrey simply said, “I want you to always remember this moment, Olivia.”

Just like the conversation that surrounded Obama’s inauguration, our entire dinner conversation last night focused on judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, just like Martin Luther King dreamed so many years ago.

Martin Luther King jr Day graphicThe topper to my whole “perfect moment” evening though, was when Olivia asked, “Why don’t people work on Martin Luther King Day?” When I told her that many people choose to honor him by doing community service or giving back, she immediately said, “I want to feed the homeless again. Pleeeeaase? Can we pleeeeeeease? I really want to do that.”

So there you go, Dr. King, we will be honoring you once again by giving back to our community, and continuing to celebrate your dream–a dream that becomes more and more powerful with each new generation, simply because equality for all is a given in the eyes of young people who have not yet learned to be ignorant.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr.

Season’s Greetings

Photo of Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colorado

This Thursday’s Picture of the Week is a departure as our family enjoys time together during the holidays. No stories or photos from exotic locales, just a warm Happy Holidays from our family to yours.

To those celebrating the “Festival of Lights,” Happy Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah! However you choose to spell it, we hope you delight in its magic. And Merry Christmas, Happy Christmakuh and Happy Kwanza to all of our friends celebrating these joyful and colorful holidays.

Whatever tradition you choose to honor, we hope it’s memorable and meaningful, and we hope it brings you the music of laughter and the warmth of family and friends.

Thanks to all of you for helping make 2011 so great. Here’s to the coming year and all the possibilities that it brings!

$30 Amazon Gift Card Holiday Giveaway

Just in time for the holidays, I am giving away a $30 Amazon gift card to one of my lucky followers. It’s my way of saying, “Thank you for all your support this year.”

Amazon Gift Card GraphicIt’s simple. Just answer this question:

Which famous movie actor is featured on a billboard Jeffrey photographed in Thailand?

For those who missed that post, the answer is easily found on this blog. Just go back through previous posts until you find it. Hint: Thursday’s Picture of the Week might be a good place to start.

Each person who correctly leaves his or her answer in the comment box will be entered into the random drawing.

Here’s the interesting part: if you want to increase your chances of winning, you can also do a few simple things listed below!

Photo of a horse sleigh in winter

LIKE ME on FACEBOOK and your name will be entered another time.

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER  @wordmuse and TWEET the message below and your name will be entered yet another time.

Tweet this message:

The Art of an Improbable Life is giving away a free $30 Amazon Gift Card: http://wp.me/p1I3pI-US

SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE TO MY BLOG and your name will be entered another time. All you have to do is type in your email address underneath the calendar on the right side of my blog. Once you receive an email from “The Art of an Improbable Life,” just hit the “confirm subscription” button and you’re done. If you’ve already signed up for my blog you will automatically entered again.

The winner’s name will be announced on Tuesday, December 20th–just in time to do some last-minute shopping.

Remember, the more you do, the more chances you have of winning. Good luck! I can’t wait to spread my holiday cheer!

Africa’s Beautiful Bag Lady: One Woman Making a Difference

Photo of Lori Robinson in AfricaWhen my friend, and fellow writer, Lori Robinson, was seven years old and living in Miami, Florida, she told her mom she wanted to go live in Africa.

Little did she know her childhood dream would turn into a lifelong passion, and culminate several decades later in a simple, yet exhilarating project: The Bag Project.

Lori was twenty-four when she finally made her way to Africa. She’d originally planned to work in wildlife conservation, but her good looks launched her into the world of modeling and television. For three and a half years she dazzled the camera during photo shoots and also hosted South Africa’s most popular live entertainment television show, Prime Time.

It may have been Lori’s modeling career that first opened the doors of Africa for her, but it was her heart that took her back again and again.

Lori Robinson in AfricaOver the past thirty years Lori has traveled extensively throughout the continent and has been deeply involved in the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). Currently she travels twice each year from her home in Santa Barbara, California to East Africa where she leads tours and also participates in volunteer work with JGI.

For part of her stay, she resides in the small town of Tenguru, Tanzania. It’s here that Lori has made an impact on the lives of thousands of Tanzanians with her Bag Project.

Watch this short video to see Lori’s project in action.

“The simplicity of it, is what makes it work,” she says as she flashes a quick smile.

“It began six years ago when I was in Tenguru and noticed a problem plaguing the beautiful landscape; plastic bags were everywhere. They were blowing in the wind, tangled in the trees and fences, stuck in rivers. They were strangling the environment.

“Not only that, but grazing goats and cows were also eating the bags, and frequently dying as a result—a devastating loss for a family who relied on the animal for its daily milk. It was a really big problem.

“Another issue is that stagnant water collects in the folds of discarded bags and is known to breed mosquitoes carrying malaria,”

Lori estimates that nearly every person in rural Tanzania uses and tosses out one plastic bag each day. That may not sound like a lot, but when you understand that most villages do not have trash pick-up or recycling, that means all these bags are drifting in the environment.

Her solution? Simple. Canvas tote bags.

Lori Robinson's bag projectLori has collected tens of hundreds of tote bags in the U.S. and taken them to Tenguru, where until now they had been virtually non-existent. In 2005 she brought over her first shipment and set up a stand at a local marketplace where she distributed them. Her only requirement? Each person had to collect at least twenty-five plastic bags and bring them to her in order to receive a free canvas tote bag.

Lori was astounded by the response. She was literally mobbed. During her latest trip in February, she distributed 1,100 canvas bags in two hours–all to members of the community who had proudly helped cleaned it up. Some had even walked ten miles to receive one. It’s a win-win for everybody. “Totes that might otherwise end up in our garbage dumps in U.S. are replacing plastic bags that would otherwise end up on the roadsides of Africa,” Lori says.

Photo of plastic bags in AfricaLori has personally received and transported over 33,000 plastic bags to the Arusha, Tanzania dump. Even more exciting is that now well over a thousand people are equipped with canvas bags, which means these shoppers will no longer be adding plastic bags to the environment. She estimates that in the next year they will save the region more than 400,000 plastic bags.

I asked Lori to tell me what surprised her most about her bag project, and this is what she said:

“The most wonderful and surprising thing is how easily everything fell into place. The inspiration of giving totes in exchange for litter, getting the thousands of totes through customs, getting the message spread in the village that I was doing this project—there were so many pieces to the project that seemed like potential obstacles, yet nothing got in the way. I am also wonderfully surprised by all the people here who have taken this project on to collect totes, give money, and spread the word. It has been so great to watch the project touch others to be called to act. I often say it was divinely inspired because I was completely in line with what I was supposed to do. When that is the case, things happen effortlessly.”

Lori believes Tenguru could become a model of progressive, sustainable living for rural Africa. She will be going back in January and August 2012 with more totes.

When I asked her how somebody could help or get involved, she said:

The best way to help right now is to:

• Share the video so others can see how damaging plastic is to the environment.

• Travel with Lori to Africa on one of her Trips with a Cause (www.africainside.org).

• Donate money for extra luggage fees, garbage dump fees (for all the litter collected), and for paying people on the ground in Tanzania who help make this project so successful.

Click on this link to make a donation: http://www.crowdrise.com/africaInside/fundraiser/africabagproject

Or donations can be made to the Tribal Trust (a non profit accepting donations on behalf of this project) and sent to Lori Robinson at PO Box 31199, Santa Barbara, CA 93130.

If you ever doubted that one person could make a difference, Lori is living proof. I hope you will help support her project in whatever way you can.

7×7 Award

A few days ago blogger, Julie Farrar, nominated me for the 7×7 Link Award. I must admit, I was tickled pink, especially coming from Julie, whose down-to-earth and often-humorous blog, Traveling Through, is always a joy to read. Thank you, Julie!

7x7 Blog award graphicThe way it works is that you review all the posts you’ve written and then list your top posts under seven different categories.

The other part of the award is that you pass it on to seven other bloggers.

Simple enough. Here goes…


Most Beautiful: Mom.
A tribute to my beautiful mom on what would have been her 77th birthday.

Photo of my mom when she was at the beach

My second choice is The Geography of Bliss, which reviews Eric Weiner’s beautiful book and celebrates the happiest places on earth in words and pictures.

Geography of Bliss book cover photograph

Most Helpful: 10 Things You Learn When the Love of Your Life is a Photojournalist. I’m not exactly sure how helpful this post is, but it gives a glimpse into the unpredictable lifestyle of a photojournalist, and the impact it has on a relationship.

Most Popular: Jeffrey Aaronson’s Improbable Journey with Steve Jobs, the Guy Who Changed His World (and Ours)–Part One and Part Two. This two-part post is by far my most popular. It has been read and mentioned everywhere from India, Italy and Thailand to Denmark, Canada, Romania and Japan.The posts pay tribute to Steve Jobs and the friendship my husband shared with him when they were both 29-years old. It also shares personal anecdotes and rarely-seen photos from the weeks leading up to the launch of the first Mac 128K computer.

Photo of Steve Jobs at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, CA, 1984

Steve Jobs leading his team in a meeting at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, CA, 1984. ©Jeffrey Aaronson.

Most Controversial: My Crash Course in Living Through the Lens. While I don’t think this is controversial, the folks that run the show in the country where information is often censored might have a different opinion about what happened during the Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square.

Photo of the Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, ChinaPhoto of soldiers in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 1989, Democracy Movement

Most Surprisingly Successful: Improbable. This is my inaugural post announcing the launch of my blog. I was astounded by the reaction.

Most Underrated: How Jeffrey Created His Most Published China Photo THEN…My Michelle Obama Moment NOW. I’m not sure I’d call it underrated, but this one received a few less views than others. I included a video in this post.

Most Prideworthy: Beyond Rangoon THEN…A Feather in Her Cap NOW. This post shares how Jeffrey photographed Burma’s democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, when she was first placed under house arrest in 1989, and also celebrates a memorable moment in our lives now.

And now for the other part of this award, I’d like to nominate the following fantastic bloggers for the 7X7 Award. Click on their blogs below to check out what they have to say. You won’t be disappointed.

All Write

Allegro non tanto

Being Arindam

Crazy Lady with a Pen

Nubian

Play 101

Suess’s Pieces

The Blog of a Vet’s Wife

Have fun with the 7×7 Award, fellow bloggers! And thanks again, Julie, for the award!

The Colors of Change

The good thing about a blog is that it can evolve and change over time, just like all of us. My initial goal on Saturdays was to curate interesting things I stumbled upon each week and feature them in my “Saturday Sizzle,” but I’ve heard from several of you that you’d rather hear what I have to say than see/read a re-post of what’s already out there.

That is quite a compliment. Thank You!

Sooooo…while I’ll still plan to share things I find intriguing, inspiring or just plain funny, I’ll do that on Twitter or Facebook. Now on Saturdays, when time allows, I’ll post more of my own musings, or perhaps even an occasional personal picture or design creation.

I thought I’d start by sharing this unusual photograph of Olivia that I created with my IPhone on the 4th of July. Jeffrey, Olivia and I were in Aspen, laying on our backs watching the fireworks. Olivia was wearing glow in the dark jewelry and holding a glow stick that sparkled with different colors.

This is what I saw.

Photo of Olivia on the 4th of July