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Professor Ron Rebholz had retired officially in 1997, and so it was by some form of serendipity that he still taught a course or two every year at Stanford after I had declared my English major in 1999.

Educated in part at Oxford, he had a voice for Shakespeare, and it was in my English 173C Shakespeare class that I found him. Our class met three times a week plus section. We began with Twelfth Night and ended with Antony and Cleopatra. Behind his powerful reading voice lived a mind and essence that could feel every character, it seemed. I remember his passion vivid on his face, alive in his eyes. No one could doubt that Professor Rebholz must have known almost every line of Shakespeare intimately, though he was, from what I understand, a scholar of the Renaissance well beyond the Bard.

I never knew him on informal personal terms, never asked about his spare time, but I believed and still believe that for many of my Stanford professors the act of sharing with us their life’s work and dearest intellectual passions was far more personal than almost anything else could possibly be. For those of my professors who happened to be gifted teachers as well as scholars (and I had a handful who to this day remain some of the best teachers I have ever experienced), it was never enough simply to transfer their knowledge to us; everything about my favorite Stanford professors demanded that we throw ourselves completely into the questions they posed to us and to emerge transformed into deeper and more passionate searchers and thinkers.

Professor Rebholz was such a teacher. Brilliant. Passionate. Shakespeare’s works weren’t just plays, just text, for him. They were living, organic words made new each time we read them. There is a magical interaction between reader and text, and no one knew it better than Professor Rebholz. He assigned us the project of putting on scenes from several of the plays we studied (although he allowed more introverted students an “out” of writing journal entries instead). Some of us who really got into these projects began to call ourselves the RSC (Rebholz Shakespeare Company), and we would meet in various dorms at 10:00 PM and rehearse.

I was in the final play we put on, staged June 1, 2000 in our classroom. Professor Rebholz was Cleopatra. I see our shadow selves acting out that scene every time I peek in that room when I visit Stanford. I think of my T.A. Alex and the field trip we all took to the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival to see Shylock that quarter. I ponder now, in retrospect, how so much of the time I approach reading as an individualized art form, and how Professor Rebholz gave us so many opportunities to challenge that assumption: attending a play together, acting out scenes, suggesting that we have movie nights with classmates in the library to watch the film versions of the plays. Does meaning change when we experience a text socially? That is a question I would love to ask him now…

To know that he is gone…hurts. He was not a friend, nor even someone with whom I have kept in touch. Yet to know that his mind, his body of intellect, his passion are all gone from this realm is to ache deeply for a loss of knowledge, the loss of a time, the loss of a teacher whom I have thought about so many times over the years.

When I opened my newsletter from Stanford’s Department of English yesterday, I immediately began to cry. He passed in November. Later, I found my notebook from his class and the tears came more forcefully. I thought about how some of him will always live in the margins of my Signet editions of Shakespeare’s plays. I read over my notes from his classes, the phrases I transcribed verbatim, and I realize some of his knowledge is still present here. For those of us who keep our college notebooks and syllabi intact, a little piece of time remains inviolate.

Part of him was with us the first time I went with my husband to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. By then, I was five months pregnant with Katie. I had never heard of the Ashland festival until Professor Rebholz mentioned it in class one morning. I wrote it down in my notebook—and that’s the thing about my class notebooks. They are a combination of thoughts discussed in class, and, in the magins, my own notes to myself about what those thoughts made me think about in turn. I did not keep journals during my college years, the only time in my life when I have not engaged in routine personal writing meant to chronicle my narrative. I have often regretted this omission, and yet I have found that I did, in fact, keep journals of sorts…in my class notebooks. I am a fast notetaker, and precise, and I would have plenty of time to doodle, write poetry, tease out thoughts, write my to-do lists for the day, etc. in my notebook margins. Often, I would write life questions I was wondering about, relevant to the themes of the class or to our texts. So much of what was most personal for me in those years is so very much in dialectic with the thoughts of my professors, juxtaposed there on the pages of my notebooks.

As soon as he mentioned Ashland and I wrote it down, fantasies of taking a trip there made it onto my bucket list before there was the film of the same name or any such cultural term. I dreamed about going for seven years. My husband and I saw Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew, our daughter growing happily with me. As I spent the weekend wandering around Ashland and Medford and Crater Lake, I often thought of Professor Rebholz and the gift of opening up all of Shakespeare that he gave me.

For those I have met in ensuing years who have claimed to hate Shakespeare, I wish I could have challenged them to study with Professor Rebholz (although I would not have wanted to subject him to that particular brand of Hell). He made those words come alive, anew. He taught me how to read—really read, performatively—a line. He was brilliant, and he loved to bring out the brilliance in others. There was no way, I don’t believe, to sit in his course and not emerge with new or deeper respect for Shakespeare’s language.

The first page of my notebook for his class is titled “Themes of the Class.” It is not a list of Shakespearean themes, nor a list of Renaissance themes. I look back at that list, in his words, as I am right now at age 33 (well, 34 in six days), and it is clear: these are themes that ask what it means to be human. What it means to be us. What it means to perceive and interpret.

One of the last notes from that day, March 28, 2000 was this: “literature hinders egotism, encourages humility.” Those are not my words, I know. Not back then. But oh, how at 33/34 I wish I could bring my mind now back into the classroom with this mind we have lost.

A decade of maturity, and your themes are more relevant than ever, Professor. Thank you for sharing your mind, your passion, and your talents with us. Thank you for the essential role you played in my narrative. You always seemed to have a smile, and you always seemed excited to see us. Above all, you seemed to know how much you were potentiating us to create our own lives and that reaching that potential is one of the most important reasons to study literature. You spoke of the ways in which artists create beauty. You were someone I know I needed to meet.

“I am fire and air; my other elements

I give to baser life. So; have you done?

Come then, and take the last warmth of my lips.”

(Antony and Cleopatra, 5.2)

There will never be a day when I pick up a Shakespearean text and don’t think of you…

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Tuesday night, 9:00 PM. Finally my two little ones are down for the night. (It’s way past bedtime, but we stayed up late reading, giggling, and singing carols. As long as I at least start them in bed by 8:00 PM, that counts as abiding bedtime, right? And those cuddles are my favorite part of the day). But I say “finally” because, whew, we’re hosting a party in three days and another one in seven days and goodness knows I need to finalize my recipes and grocery list for the store tomorrow. I love those babies when they are awake, and I love them when they are asleep—especially when my to-do list is a mile long on top of planning all of their schooling. Goodnight, babies, time to get some organizing done over a cup of peppermint tea! I would say Christmas is a busy time of year, but it is always like this. And that coveted hour or two I get after they go down for the night is when I either relax—or, more likely, try to get caught up on projects, planning, writing, and hobbies.

There’s always this moment when I finish tucking them in that I feel a little weight rise off my shoulders for a moment. I can hear myself breathing. The whole house is absolutely still and quiet and I am gloriously alone with my thoughts. An introvert’s paradise. No one is in immediate danger of running and falling, no one needs help in the bathroom, no one else asks me to perform. I can be quiet and as pensive as I want to be. I can spend time asking myself to perform. My facial muscles relax. The heightened feeling of alert responsibility for them never quite completely wanes—how many times in the last six years have I been needed at night?—but for those couple of hours, it subsides a bit: children are fairly immobilized when they are sleeping, after all.

And so at 9:00 PM on Tuesday night, I am downstairs peeling through recipes as quickly as possible, searching for my mom’s corn pudding recipe. Roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, almost all the rest of it don’t need recipes, but this one does because I’ve never officially made it before. Where is it? I desperately want to find it before my tea boils, sit down, write the grocery list for two party menus, be done by 9:30 PM at the latest, maybe go crazy and get some wrapping finished, map out a math lesson for tomorrow, write the agenda board, pick up…yeah, all by 10:30 PM, so I can get up and fit in a longer run before Bill goes to work. With the kiddos asleep, I can zoom through most of this, I think. I am eager. Driven. Excited to have this time to make progress on my to-do list.

When what to my wondering ears did appear…but the sound of little padding feet, coming tentatively down the stairs.

It’s Eric. I know their sounds without sight. The thing about Eric is that, unlike my daughter, he NEVER gets out of bed once he is down. Katie has put us through the bedtime/go-to-sleep-now ringer; Eric, never. He’s been our bedtime champ. Even when he got his big boy bed, he’s been obedient and so good about staying in his room. They balance each other in so many ways.

But this past week Eric has been feeling a bit left out, I know. We’ve been schooling intensely and trying to fit in so much else besides. During school hours, he has been participating in his activities, but has had to entertain himself when not wanting to do an activity alongside Katie. He hasn’t had much attention from me this week, especially one-on-one. I know why he is coming downstairs.

He appears around the corner. Almost shyly. He is holding his hands up by his mouth. Those sweet little fingers… His pajama pants are a touch too big and pool a bit around his ankles, not to the point of tripping, but he looks so little in them. He wonders if he will be in trouble for coming out of his room. He’s never tested this premise before, but generally, he knows bedtime is bedtime. If he is out of bed right now, there is a reason. I fight every urge to be selfish that I feel (my coveted time—I need it—I am desperate to get some things done that I cannot do as easily when they are awake, or at all when they are awake), and I open my arms wide to him, and say, “Hi, Sweet Boy. What are you doing down here, Mr. Eric?”

“I need my momma.”

There is a choice to be made. I make it. I smile brightly.

“Guess what, little guy? I need you, too. I need my Eric. Come here, sweet boy.”

He scampers over, and I can feel his little heart bursting with joy. “I need you, too,” he repeats as if lingering over what I just gave to him.

I sit him on the counter. I explain to him that this is time for mommy to get some organizing done and have some tea, but that if he wants to sit with me on the couch while I do it, he is welcome to help me. I am thinking he will end up falling asleep, most likely. We finish finding the corn recipe.

We sit on the couch, the mantle lights twinkling white amid garland. It’s strange not to be alone…it is past 9:30 PM now, but then something shifts in the world and suddenly, this time with him is so completely magical. My tea has cooled, and he asks for a sip. He just wants companionship. Time. To be in a world together. Nothing is going according to my plan. Wrap presents? Right. But everything is going exactly as it should go. As we make our grocery list together, I am aware in the moment that this will always be a memory worth saving. I feel the magic.

In addition to the corn pudding recipe, we are looking for a jello recipe. I adore my Nana’s jello salad recipe, which calls for sour cream…and Bill is not a fan of sour cream. I have only ever made jello a couple of times in my life, actually, and don’t have too much of a clue about jello salads; but Bill has requested jello for our McGaugh family party. I am searching for recipes on my phone while Eric looks on.

By luck, we stumble upon a YouTube series called “Betty’s Kitchen” with a woman named Betty who talks in a light southern drawl and has a most winning way with her word choices and phrasing that just delights me. Something about her is mesmerizing (in fact, the kiddos and I have been treating ourselves to a couple of short episodes after our reading all the rest of this week). We found a video of Betty making a Christmas ribbon jello layered salad. Eric wants to watch it twice. I ask  him if he thought we should try making it for our party, and he agrees.

And, after he helped to collect all the ingredients for it on Wednesday, we did:

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I happened to have a jello mold my mom had given me years ago when she was cleaning out her kitchen. Does it come from the 70s or 80s? I think so. So funkily retro—I love it! In all my years of cooking, I have never made a layered jello salad in a jello mold, and now this part of our meal is absolutely one of my favorite memories. In a month filled with tradition and purposeful memory-making (annual dates to The Nutcracker Ballet and to A Christmas Carol, trip to the Grand Californian/Disneyland parks, Christmas Tree Day, St. Lucia’s Day, Katie’s choir performance, the Valley Winds singalong, cookie baking, popcorn garland and White Christmas day, gingerbread houses, and so much more), in a month filled with all of this, I know that moment of sitting in the still of night at 10:00 PM and watching Betty make layered Christmas jello is going to be one of the moments I remember most from Christmas 2013.

All because the night was quiet and a little boy followed his heart downstairs…

All because we held each other close and tried to solve a dilemma together…

All because we shared sips of peppermint tea…

All because we paid no attention to bedtime…

All because his little heart was so open and plain-speaking and, “I need my momma.”

All because I had the chance to reply, “I need you, too.”

Life’s simplest moments are often the most beautiful. We are given gifts in simplicity. There does not need to be more.

I need you, too, Eric. I need you, too.

It’s time to play catch-up. If I can. The thing about being a Type A person is that once I get behind on my blog writing it feels difficult to jump back in without feeling a bit overwhelmed by all I wish I had been posting. That’s when I need to summon the editor in me, the ruthless editor who knows when to jettison and take no prisoners. If I don’t start writing something, this neglected blog will fall entirely by the wayside.

So, the Temecula Turkey Trot. Let’s start there. Zooming right past Thanksgiving and all the cutie pictures of my cousins, old and newborn…

My dad, his trainer and friend Val, and I ran the 5K Turkey Trot on November 30, 2013 at Cougar Winery in Temecula. We signed up months ago, before I performed in the Long Beach Half, and so all that time I had been envisioning this as a “fun run” that I would not particularly get all hyped up about. Like a relaxing 3 mile jaunt for the experience of it. You know, chill. I had the 13.1 to worry about, right?

Well, about a week or so out from the run (which is when I started to remember that I had this coming up), I realized that as a runner I both could, and should, race it to the best of my ability. I was not fully tapered, and I think sometimes my husband wonders what the H is going on in my mind when I head out lately. After racing Long Beach, I had foresworn another half this year and wanted to focus on middle distances (10Ks), but then I found that I actually really like the 13.1 distance and that it is hard for me to go out without throwing 8s and 10s and 11s into my training mix. I like to push. I’m a distance runner at heart. My best 8 miler lately has been 1:01:40, at a 7:40 pace. I still need to keep pushing myself to get better and better, but there has been improvement since the end of summer.

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A cold, cold morning until the sun started to break out a bit more over the vines…

Here’s how the Turkey Trot went down:

RESULTS: I placed 9th OVERALL (men/women/all ages); 2nd in all women; 2nd in my age bracket (my age bracket took the 1 and 2 spots in the ladies’ 5K). My time was 22:07.5, but my GPS says I ran 3.3 in that time…so my average pace was 6:42, a PR, and my 3 mile time was more like 19:48 according to Bill. This was not a chip-timed race. But whatever…I’ll take it!

The women ages 30-39 took this race for the ladies. The woman who beat me, Jennifer Burris, had a great and award-winning career as a runner in both high school and college. She passed me early on, and I struggled to come even close to her and never did. She was amazing, and I respect that kind of effort so very much. She was one of the only people who passed me (since I was 9th overall for both men and women), and I remember her coming out of nowhere in the first half mile and ZOOM!

But what made me tear up was how, when she accepted her award, she had a young child on her hip. I thought, “We are both mamas of very young children. We are both in our 30s. And here we are representing that the female body can be lean and fierce and fearless and competitive against high school girls and even the boys/men.” We took the first and second place spots for all women, and then of course for our age, as well. I felt both moved and extremely powerful. My body has birthed two children and now it can run like a beast, too. (Which still makes me laugh, because not even I would have predicted this new life phase for myself, especially not two years ago when I was still caressing my beloved excuses like a coveted pet). What can we do if we put our whole minds into the goal? Ladies, we are unstoppable. We just have to make our bodies and minds fight for it… Fight for it. Fight! Every single day we have choices about doing our best and challenging ourselves to become better than we were.

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I wish I could post the pictures of me actually running and finishing, but I don’t want to be in copyright violation since I screenshot them. This is a picture of me after receiving my placement medal (2nd place ladies, all ages). I also received a gift certificate for the running store. Bill says if I consider that it took 22:07 to earn, it is not a bad hourly wage at all! Ha ha.

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Everyone in our car earned medals, plus one of our friends. My dad was third in his age group (males), and Val was third in her age group (females). I also earned a 2nd place medal for my age group. I like that the awards were placement medals. It feels good to have my Long Beach half-marathon medal as a souvenir, but I prefer when medals have a competitive value attached. Competition (other than biological competition) does not have a place in day to day life, and I am not competitive on a routine basis with other people for any reason; there are, however, times and places to channel the competitive spirit, and racing in my sport is one of them. Competitiveness needs to have a proper outlet, and for me it does. Most of the time when I train, and even when I race, I channel most of the competition toward myself only. I am looking for PRs when I can get them, even while training, but it is also eye-opening to see how I stack up in a field of runners. That adrenaline is amazing.

This race was a PR for me. This was a 5K, but I also wanted to look at my 3-mile time. On October 5th, I ran 3 miles in 20:39 on a flat track, and this Turkey Trot would have me clocking in at 19:38 for 3 miles. I improved about a minute. The Turkey Trot was also on a hilly washboard dirt course. New challenges keep my mind invigorated, that’s for sure!

Today I went out for 7.7 and had a struggle of a time with it. I finished in 1:00:07, which wasn’t horrible at all (and close to my 8 mile PR on a different route—which is the problem with road racing: the inconsistent variables), but it was one of those runs where my legs felt tight and my mind had to do ALL the work to get through it decently. Sometimes I go out, settle in, my legs go on automatic, and my mind can wander and compose and work things out and create for my children; today, I had to keep all my focus on making my legs MOVE IT! Those are hard runs, because of the mental effort involved. It has also been icy cold here. Leaving the house this morning was excruciating. As my husband said as he coached and patted my shoulder this morning, “Getting started is the hardest part.” He was right; he always is. I’ve had an injury since before the Turkey Trot that subsides and then will bother me. It was bothering me for the trot, but I said to myself at the starting line, “Whatever. Shut it out. You are stronger than the discomfort. Time to race this!” I know I should rest it more, but the injury does seem to be improving. It developed when I started running trails a couple of weeks ago and did a 12-miler. Something went off-kilter, I guess…oh, well! There’s no time or reason for me to wallow.

My next race is a fun run with my friend Steve…the Spartan 5K with obstacles in Jan. We’re in the process of trying to change our start time and running into snafus, but we hope this race goes down the way we planned. Other than that, I am toying with the idea of doing another half-marathon in my area in February. I was going to hold myself to racing one a year…but this is almost too tempting. I also have several registration fees listed on my Amazon wish list for Christmas. Hoping I get some of those!