The Women Who Burned Mountains | Sneak Peak

Stories for Strangers.

Here is a sneak peak of my new work, The Women Who Burned Mountains. This story profiles the life and legacy of a strong line of mountain women who came to inhabit the MacTom house of Savoy, Massachusetts. These women were fiercely independent, morally-complicated characters who subverted the dominant narrative of the roles of women in their time. It is a pleasure to share a snippet of my findings with you.

Hold mountains in your heart,



The sleepy hallow of Savoy nestles within the Berkshires of Massachusetts. It is shrouded from the world by steep foothills and an ancient forest landscape of hemlock, spruce, birch and maple trees.

Time moves slower here. Not much has changed since my mother was a girl skipping stones at Plainfield Pond. The good folk’s homes groan slightly to the side as if leaning on the mountain for support.

The harsh February wind buffets…

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The Power of Paws: Therapy Dogs Proven to Boost Mental Health

By Allyson Morin

The stress of college weighs heavily on the mental health of many students. Therapy dogs can provide the answer for stress relief and self-care at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Through the Paws Program, Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, a group that places well-trained therapy dog teams in programs around New England, visits the Student Union Ballroom and W.E.B. Du Bois Library multiple times throughout the semester to relieve stressed students during midterm and final exams.

A Bernese mountain dog named Kaezli flipped onto her back to receive belly rubs from a student attendee during finals week of the fall semester. The 3-year-old therapy dog is one of 27 Bright Spot canine visitors at the Paws Program. (Allyson Morin/Amherst Wire).

“A good therapy dog is happy doing their job,” said Cynthia Hinckley, executive director and founder of Bright Spot Therapy Dogs.

Hinckley founded the program in 2004 and established over 175 facilities throughout New England for canine visits.

“We’re very careful about the dogs we take in,” Hinckley said. “They have to have the right temperament. They have to be well-socialized. A dog that’s going to be a good therapy dog has to feel comfortable interacting with people they don’t know and going into places they’ve never been before.”

Therapy dogs are different from service dogs in that a therapy dog’s function is to provide love and friendship to a variety of people, while service dogs are specially trained to help their handler with everyday tasks.

Bright Spot founder Cynthia Hinckley at UMass for the Paws Program on Dec. 7, 2016. (Allyson Morin/Amherst Wire).

Many students say the therapy dogs remind them of their furry friends at home, a comforting reminder as they push through exams.

“A lot of people miss their pets at home. These dogs might remind them of their family dogs,” said Josie Pinto, a public health major and peer health educator at the event.

“Dogs are proven to lower stress levels and cheer us up. It feels good,” she said.

Pinto understands how a human-animal bond can relieve stress. Pets can help their humans relieve stress and achieve goals, according to a Scientific American article.

Isabel Feller-Kopman, a UMass student, has a 2-year-old yellow lab at home named Sunshine.

“I love this. It makes me miss my dog,” said Feller-Kopman.

Students like Audrey Herrmann say that it’s important to do things to relax in between studying.

“There is so much going on. While it’s important to get good grades and study, you need to take time for yourself as well,” said Herrmann.

Kaci Naughton said that to her, petting pups in the Student Union was the perfect way to wind down, even if just for a little while.

“I’ve never been here before,” said Kaci Naughton, another UMass student. “I personally just changed my major so I’m very stressed. I feel better already being here.”

Therapy dogs and their handlers are trained together to help others through visits to healthcare and educational facilities. A dog’s job is to interact with people — in some cases to provide friendship, and in other cases to provide comfort during troubling times, according to Hinckley.

“When the brain is relaxed, it can focus and concentrate more,” said health promotion specialist April McNally with the Center for Health Promotion. “This is good in terms of well-being, mental health and relationships.”

Hinckley explained that peer health educators plan these events, and always include at least three health-related resources for stressed students to take advantage of. The Paws Program event also features Active Minds, a group that aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, a body positivity advocate group called Enough and an acupuncture session.

Carly Redmond, a public health major and peer health educator, said self-care is an essential practice to reduce stress during finals season.

“I’m feeling extreme stress,” Redmond said, “People get caught up in it. It’s really important to take time for yourself.”

In addition to organizing several events over the course of the year, Redmond said the peer health educators are “a resource to provide students other resources on campus.”

The Paws Program will appear on campus for the last time of the 2016-2017 academic year on April 26.

Some of the Bright Spot dogs also aid younger students to feel comfortable with their learning. Elementary students read stories aloud to the therapy dogs through the Bright Spot reading buddy program. For more information on visits and therapy dog certifications, visit their website.

Twin History Teachers Combat Under-Performance in Springfield School

By Allyson Morin

SPRINGFIELD, Mass–At Springfield’s High School of Commerce, two teachers are strikingly similar to one another.

Both men are new hires teaching U.S. History in classrooms located along the same brightly lit hallway. Born in 1992, by 1999 the pair moved with their family from Chicago to Massachusetts. After graduating from Westfield State University they found work in the public school system side-by-side.

The pair are brothers. More than that, they are identical twins.

In addition to their shared genetics, John and Patrick Bartel share a commitment to teaching and share a philosophy about the role of education in young people’s lives. John began teaching at Commerce August 2015. His brother Patrick was hired two months later to relieve some of the stress of overcrowded classrooms.

“I try to facilitate discussion. I try to get students to talk as much as humanly possible, mainly because I’m interested in what they have to say. I’m interested in their opinions,” said Patrick.

Patrick begins each class with ten minutes of lecture, whether that be on social changes of the 1960s or on the brothers’ favorite period in history, World War I. Most of class time is given to student-led discussions.

“I couldn’t teach if I didn’t care about the students,” said Patrick who says he fell into teaching by chasing a passion for history.

John agreed and continued to say that his goal as a teacher is to give students the tools they need to become productive adults.

“I don’t believe in the midterms and I don’t believe in the finals,” said John. “I’m a firm believer in teaching [students] skills. I want them to go out to the work force and go off to college with skills. Skills and accountability.”

Patrick is also a firm believer in holding students accountable. He says education is a two-way street and while he will meet students halfway it is up to the learner to follow through on their responsibility to complete assignments.

“I don’t like to chase people down for work,” said Patrick. “I’m about accountability. I give them tools to succeed, but it is up to them to succeed.”

“I’ll give you help all along the way. If you come to me for help I’ll help you do [the work],” said John. “But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to do it.”

The Bartel twins’ words echo each other as their teaching style simultaneously echoes the message of educator and philosopher Paulo Friere. Friere states that education is more than training a student to be dexterous and competent, education must aim to create an autonomous individual.

1109161345_HDR-1Battling the Cycle of Underperformance

While both teachers envision a future of teaching at Commerce, they are worried of the looming threat of the school being classified as a Level 5 “underperforming” institution by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The high school sits at level 4 school due to chronic underperformance on Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) standardized tests. Level 5 means state intervention.

“There are students here who truly do want to succeed in an environment where it can be difficult to succeed,” said John.

If he were in charge, John says he would begin by changing the high school’s attendance policy, which he believes allows students to fall too far behind in their education.

“[Students] are allowed 14 absences over the course of a year. In one class. I think that’s ridiculous. If we make it 7, what is our attendance going to look like? Our attendance would look terrible. I think at first there would be a huge slump but after time it would level out,” said John.

Patrick says he tries to be a support system to his students as they navigate their high school education and beyond.

“A lot of these students, if they go to college, will be first generation college students. I think it is easy to fall into the mindset that, none of my family has gone to college, none of my friends are going, so I can’t go,” said Patrick. “They don’t have a support system.”

While the twins say they do not chase students to turn in their assignments they will intervene to redirect a student headed down the path of dropping out.

“Don’t be part of a statistic that you don’t want to be a part of. That’s a line I don’t like to pull but I do occasionally,” said Patrick. He said he hopes his intervention shocks students to the reality of how dropping out negatively affects career and life goals.

Both educators worry what Trump’s administration means for historically underrepresented students in underfunded school systems who are uncertain about their future. United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos plans to elevate for-profit schools at the expense of public education and push creationist, evangelical agenda according to statements made in 2001.

America’s history carries a tradition of systemically oppressing underrepresented groups of people. When addressing these topics with the underfunded students at the High School of Commerce, Patrick lays the truth bare.

“There are too many moments in history where governments try to forget the past. I try to be as honest as I can. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to let people know about the truly horrible things this country has done from genocide of Native Americans to internment of Japanese Americans during the second World War,” said Patrick.

This tradition of oppression reaches to the High School of Commerce where the primarily students of color have been on the receiving end of racism and insufficient funding for their education.

“I don’t know if there is a way to break out of this cycle of violence we’ve been seeing so much of. I think a lot of it stems from fear, ignorance, that people don’t know much about something that that scares them. I think in general if we can get people more accepting about learning and of discovering cultures entirely different from their own that will end a lot of the fear,” said Patrick.

Patrick says he is critical of the President’s administration while outside the classroom but does not want to ostracize students with opposing political stances.

“Honesty—speaking truth to power—is a revolutionary stance in this political climate”, he said.

Education is the specifically human act of intervening with the world, according to Freire. This progressive approach to learning brings forth radical change in society as individuals use the platform gained by their education to make their voices heard.

John points to examples of Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter as examples of individuals who used their platformed gained by education and experience to drive change.

“Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism. That’s what you saw at Standing Rock and that’s what you see with Black Lives Matter. All those people, whether they’re right or wrong, that’s what moves our country forward. Being angry. People being dissatisfied. If you aren’t enraged, you aren’t paying attention, because there’s a lot to be enraged about,” said John.

Amid turbulence in the government, community and in their students’ lives, the Bartel twins will continue to teach history and help students find their place in this nation’s history at Springfield’s High School of Commerce for time to come.

Sonia Ellis’ Young Adult Novels Inspire a Future of Women in STEM

By Allyson Morin

WESTFIELD, Mass–From her laptop screen, author Sonia Ellis’ second novel TimeTilter gently illuminates her breezy pale green kitchen. Several years ago, the former chemical engineer made a radical career change to write young adult novels that aim to engage underrepresented youth with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts.

“It was a little easier to write the first book because it was a younger audience. This book is targeted to a more sophisticated 6th to 8th grade audience so I had to be more aware about how to present these topics in a way that was engaging and not in any way lecturing,” said Ellis, who scrapped two or three 100-page false starts from the novel’s conception in 2014.

Her first book, a young adult mystery novel titled Talk To Me, introduced principles of artificial intelligence, engineering design and engineering ethics to children as early as fourth grade.

The second novel, TimeTilter, incorporates elements of bioengineering, the principles of biomimicry, construction, sustainability and explores the outer limits of what engineering can achieve. Importantly, the novel is written from a feminist approach to interest middle schoolers, a critical period as research shows middle school to be the age most girls lose confidence in their ability to pursue STEM.

The 53-year-old mother of two works with a team of professors, students, artists, videographers, and educators from Smith College and Springfield Technical Community College on the Through My Window project, funded by a grant the National Science Foundation. TimeTilter, the second and final book produced under the grant, will appear in print and online this fall.


Ellis says the traditional method of coating STEM concepts in pink and glitter simply does not work. What does work? Engaging narrative and strong female role models.

The author received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986, where she received numerous honors for academic achievement.  She received her master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1988.

“Why I made the change in career is the story behind why we are doing this project at all. I was one of the lucky ones. My dad was a chemical engineer. He and my mom were so supportive to my older sister and me that we could absolutely become engineers. We both went on to get advanced degrees in engineering,” Ellis said.

Ultimately however, she made the personal choice to forgo her doctorate in chemical engineering to shift her focus to writing instead.

“When I looked around myself at my class what did I see? I didn’t see female faces among the students or the faculty. It wasn’t just about being female in a male dominated world. It wasn’t just community, it was tied in with identity… I didn’t feel like I had the stereotypical identity of an engineer. The reality is, engineering is a gigantic world. You can do so many different things if you’re a creative person, if you’re good at communication and teamwork or you are a writer like me, there are different ways you can use your skills to be a really good engineer,” Ellis said animatedly, pushing her long brown bangs away from her kind eyes as she spoke with a smile.

Her office is located down the hallway from her cozy kitchen, nestled in an annex off her small den. The office is the nicest room in the house with a skylight and sliding glass doors leading to a fenced back yard where the many dogs that pass through the house run wild. Natural light spills through the large panes of glass to illuminate the soft gray walls. There are two desks painted with a dusty blue lacquer purchased from Ezra’s Mercantile in downtown Westfield, Mass. Between the desks, low bookshelves cram in front of an exposed brick wall while by the window sits a black futon covered in dog hair.

Ellis doesn’t spend any time writing in her office, although she might be found there singing, playing the ukulele, or photographing small objects from interesting angles. Her clean desk is desk drawers are well organized, the pens separated from the pencils in white drawer organizers that remain mostly undisturbed. Ellis finds her creative energy when she is on the move—in the car, on a walk, or pacing around the house. She is of medium build, with dark eyes and dark hair contrasting a light complexion. Her affinity for long, colorful skirts reveals a lean towards artistic pursuits. Her two dogs, a golden retriever named Chase and an Australian cattle dog named Bleu as well as her housemate’s gentle mutt Tripoli are happy for the long walks spent in creative contemplation.

“I can’t sit and be creative. Every single breakthrough I’ve had on this book when I’ve been stuck and need to move forward has been on a car ride, on a walk, or in the shower,” Ellis said.

In the past, her shower has housed a waterproof pad of paper and a pencil in case inspiration strikes.

TimeTilter follows the story of a 16-year-old girl named Singer, born with a disability from a perinatal stroke. She never feels valued or loved in her home where it is clear her parents value perfection above all else. When one of the family’s agility golden retrievers becomes injured, her parents decide to abandon the dog. This prompts Singer to embark on a rescue mission as she sees her own imperfections mirrored in her canine friend.

This is when she is kidnapped and thrown into the TimeTilter, a scientific experiment on human perception’s limitations of time and sight. Children chosen for experimentation are homeless or runaways, like Singer, who will not be missed. Part of Singer’s growth is coming to understand her own value and her own sense of worth as she uses communication and teamwork—the fundamentals of STEM—to escape.

In March, the project team heads to Girls Inc. National Training in Indianapolis. Ellis and Through My Window outreach coordinator Isabelle Huff will deliver a presentation to Girl Scout Leaders interested in implementing the program with their troops.

Huff has been involved with the project for seven years since she was an undergraduate at Smith College. She was in a similar outreach program as a middle schooler and said she is excited to work on the other end.

“There is not a lot of people doing what we’re doing,” Huff said, joking that Talk To Me is the Harry Potter of STEM literature for its ability to capture the imagination of a younger generation.

“We have relatable, emotionally engaging characters. The students are asking questions and engaging as if they are characters in the story. The book shows that engineering is about helping people in society,” Huff said of why narrative helps girls generate interest in STEM.

This approach to engineering is approachable to young boys as well, as teachers implement Through My Window in co-ed classrooms. Ellis said she was sure to create strong, complex male characters for young boys to relate to.

While K-12 education sees girls score on par with their male counterparts in mathematics and science, as students move towards higher education, the gap widens. While women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological, they receive only 17.9 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, 19.3 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and 39 percent of physical science bachelor’s degrees according to the NSF’s Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering (2015).

Through My Window instructional designer and middle school science educator Lauren Binger says that statistics often paint a more equal picture than reality reflects. Many statistics factor healthcare into the biological sciences offshoot of STEM, which skews the data as women are highly represented as nurses.

“Women tend to be in lower paid positions in STEM,” Huff agreed.

As the NSF funding comes to an end, Ellis says she feels hopeful and passionate about this women-led effort to empower the next generation of women as they choose career paths. Talk To Me has been developed into learning curriculum, an audio book, interactive games, as well as translated to Spanish.

“Are kids right now engaged? Is there a growing number of teachers using this program? Yes. In the field, Through My Window appears to be working,” said Ellis.

Her kind eyes light up as she describes how proud she is to be part of a community that empowers women.

“Through My Window has truly emotional meetings. There are lots of women in the room with amazing, creative ideas who feel so passionate about the work they do. It’s nice to be a part of something you care about,” Ellis said.

In the future, Ellis plans to continue publishing young adult novels and education materials.

Five Seconds of Everything with Kimberly Cruz

By Allyson Morin



I sat down to discuss the challenges of novel writing with high school of Commerce senior Kimberly Cruz. Cruz is the author of five novels on a story-sharing site called Wattpad where her most popular work, “Night and Day” garnered 2,600 reads. She is a prolific writer with a passion for storytelling.

Her drafts are home to nine additional novels in various stages of completion.

On Oct. 12, 2016 Cruz wrote:

“I first knew I wanted to be a journalist when I started sixth grade. I would always have a notebook full of stories, whether it was fan fiction, teen fiction, or other type of stories. I always wanted to publish one of my own, but I knew that it would take a long time. So I decided that while I’m in the process of my writing, I would work for the newspaper or the magazines where I interview people or write a paper on someone or something important to in life to people. That’s why I thought I would move to New York, go to college to improve my writing skills. After college I would stick around, live there, and try to work for one of their newspaper companies. New York is one the the cities where writers can make it. I see things in a way nobody else sees. I want to share my words.”

UMass Nursing Snags Grant for Sleep and Stress Research


UMass Life Sciences Building (Allyson Morin/Amherst Wire)Enter a caption


 The goal is to use data to enable patients to take charge of their symptoms.

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing has begun researching fatigue and stress management in chronic illness patients after receiving a $1.23 million research grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research earlier this year.

Stress and fatigue are detrimental to people experiencing chronic illness and can prolong or worsen their symptoms. Poor rest and high stress can also cause various symptoms such as weight gain, anxiety and magnification of pain — particularly in individuals suffering from chronic illnesses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

UMass was one of only six research centers nationwide to receive this grant, according to Cynthia Jacelon, a professor of nursing.

The UMass College of Nursing used the grant to create the “UManage Center,” an umbrella term that refers to the interdisciplinary team working on the project. The team hopes to create a physical space for the UManage Center in the coming years.

“The hope is to move in the direction to create a physical space. We want to involve the community with focus groups targeted on sleep and fatigue,” said Annette Wysocki, the assistant dean for research at the College of Nursing.

The grant will also fund 10 interdisciplinary pilot research studies over the next five years. Innovative sleep monitoring devices are at the center of this research study.

“We want to use technology to help inform people so they can figure out how to self-manage their symptoms,” Wysocki said.

The research aims to help patients better manage their symptoms between hospital and doctor visits.

Chronic illness patients experience between four and ten symptoms, according to Wysocki, which complicates treatment efforts. Developing new technologies will help patients better understand their symptoms at home.

The nurse-led interdisciplinary teams will collaborate with other on-campus departments and use the laboratories and equipment in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences on campus.

The grant will provide UMass nursing students real-world opportunities to gain experience in the medical field.

“It is going to, if successful … enhance the amount of work that faculty can do in this area. There will be more classes, space and resources to bring to UMass to maintain expertise,” said Rebecca Spencer, a sleep expert supporting researchers in the study.

Wysocki said she hopes this research will lead to partnerships with companies and subsequent funding to develop more devices to help patients in other areas.

The first two research projects are headed by nursing faculty Rachel Walker and Karen Kalmakis.

Walker’s team will help cancer survivors monitor and self-manage persistent fatigue through the development of a wearable eye-tracking technology to provide patient feedback.

Kalmakis’ team will study physiological stress indicators such as cortisol in sweat as an indicator of stress to help patients improve their sleep hygiene.

“The biggest danger when adding stress and fatigue to an existing condition is that it amplifies health problems. It is harder to take care of yourself when you are sleep deprived,” Spencer said. “Sleep health helps us make good decisions.”

To try to quantify rest, researchers will place electrodes on patients’ heads to gather technical data on sleep stages. A non-invasive FitBit style watch will be used in an actigraphy test which monitors patterns of awakeness and rest over a period of several nights. Patients will also answer questionnaires about their rest habits.

According to Wysocki, the goal is to use this data to enable patients to take charge of their symptoms — whether that be adjusting pain medication dosage, engaging in physical activity or practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing.

Studies show equal outcomes for treating insomnia from a non-medical perspective as compared to a medicinal approach. Spencer says she wants to attack fatigue by focusing on behavior change and intervention.

“If the data shows patients consistently sleep short or go to bed late, it helps us to say: Here are things you can change about your day in order to go to bed early,” said Spencer.

Sleep and stress issues can also negatively impact a patient’s physical symptoms. Wysocki, who has an extensive background in wound care, said these factors “can also thin your skin and create problems with healing.”

Significant Mileage: My Mom’s 18-year Running Streak

By Allyson Morin

At 4:44 a.m., my mom Beth’s alarm goes off for school.  Before she begins the 45-minute commute to her fifth-grade classroom to work as a math teacher, she goes through her routine like clockwork.  She lets out the dogs, eats oatmeal, talks to her father on the phone, watches the news with a coffee, and finally hops on the treadmill for her daily 5-mile run.  She does this every day without fail.

She has missed only three runs since May 1, 1998.  That’s 6,692 days of running.

On May 1, 1998, now 45-year-old Beth began her running streak.  At that point she already had a two-year streak having taken zero days off since my birth.  Before then, she had run every day since 1994. After taking a day off to give birth to my younger sister Alexa, born on April 29, 1998, she was back in her running shoes two days later.

A running streak is defined as running at least one mile every day—no days off.  The longest female running streak on record is held by 79-year-old Lois Bastien who began her streak on April 18, 1980.  Her streak lasted 13,280 days or just over 36 years.

Beth runs between four and six miles on her treadmill in the exercise room of her two-story house.  Every morning for upwards of an hour the house shakes while she pounds out her daily mileage.  It keeps her lean, fast, and slightly neurotic.

“Why do you do it?” I ask.

In April 1988 when my mother was 18-years old, she jumped off a cliff on impulse.  She had a crush on a boy who had run and jumped off into the water just before.

“Everyone always says I’m impulsively doing stupid things.  I thought about that as I was running towards the edge.  I hesitated and didn’t have the momentum to make it past the solid rocks at the bottom.  I missed the water and hit the rocks,” she said.  She didn’t realize right away the severity of the injury due to shock.

It shattered both her feet.  She spent several months and completed her graduation walk confined to plaster casts.

“I had an epiphany as I was running this morning,” said Beth.  As usual, she’s sweaty and has just finished a six-mile run. “After I shattered my feet I realized I was so lucky to be able to walk that I might as well be running.  I wanted to see if I could do it.”

“I don’t run that far because I want to be able to wake up and do it again tomorrow,” she says.

Beth has had her fair share of long runs.  As a college student, she routinely ran for hours—when she wasn’t hung over.  In those days she had no problem taking days off when life got hectic.  Once, when my sister and I were still in a jogging stroller, Beth ran over 20 miles on the Hadley bike trail.

“I passed out on the kitchen floor from dehydration when I got home.  I thought I was going to die.  It wasn’t smart but I wanted to see if I could do it,” Beth said.


In March 2014, when I ran my first half marathon (I finished in an hour and 25 minutes), Beth ran a half marathon on her treadmill.

“I wanted to see if I could do it,” she said.  She finished in 1:38:23.

My mom has a lifetime warranty on her treadmills, which she abuses.  She runs them to the ground.  Her first three machines capped out at 9,999 miles before needing to be replaced.  The fourth one she broke at 10,380 miles.  The mileage counter on the treadmills only shows four digits.

“I wanted to see what would happen if I took it over that edge,” she said.  She stopped at 10,380 because it is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10.  It’s a significant number.

Her current treadmill, as of August 26, 2016, is at 4,676 miles.

“It’s at 4,676 miles! You got that? Write it down!” she yelled from upstairs.  It isn’t a significant number, it’s only divisible by 2 and 4.  I’m always being texted photos of significant numbers, whether it’s the car mileage or treadmill mileage.

“It’s hard to explain what makes a number significant.  I like when numbers are divisible by other numbers.  Sometimes I run extra miles to make treadmill mileage divisible by 2 or 4 or 6.  Same with the car odometer,” she says.

Beth and I both have synesthesia, which is “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body” according to Wikipedia. I think that description does a poor job of explaining the way we see the world.

For us, color and temperature are tied closely to numbers.  For example, the number 2 is always red, 3 is pink, and 8 is green.  I see the number 5, I feel warm orange. I see my mom, I see the number 8 and a very cool, dark green that smells like pine sap. It’s weird and hard to explain, but it’s satisfying to see numbers that relate closely together.


I interrupt her, “Hang on a minute, you’re wearing my running socks.  You’re always stealing my goddamn socks!”  I work in a running specialty store and often come home with really sweet socks.

“Define *your*.  I’m the reason you run in the first place so…” she says.

It’s true, I must admit.  My whole life I’ve busted my ass to keep up with my mom.  At one point I could run an 18-minute 5K, a 5:11 mile, and an 11-minute 2 mile… setting high school records but with the knowledge that if my mom were running with me I’d be blown into the dust.

She tells me that when I run, she’s always just behind me and slightly to the left, just like she was in the early days when we ran together when I was a kid.

Her running streak isn’t a true streak, she admits, but I’m not so sure that matters.  In the last 18+ years, she has taken three days off.  One day for the “worst flu of her life”, another when she pulled her Achilles jumping on a trampoline while on vacation in Maine, and finally for the day she spent painting the house.  It had taken her from early morning to past midnight.  There physically weren’t enough minutes left in the day to sneak a run in.  It bothers her to talk about her off days.

“How long do you hope to keep this up?” I asked several weeks ago as we ran around the neighborhood together.

“Until I die,” she answered.


Beth has been running her whole life.  In sixth grade, she started the Cheshire Running Club with neighborhood kids.  This got her younger sister Amy into running, which she continues to this day.

“I always made her run farther than me.  I’d yell at her like a coach,” my mom said.

My mother keeps scrapbooks painstakingly pieced together of her running career.  Hand drawn awards in her mother’s spidery handwriting congratulate her for completing 19 miles.  The club’s emblem is a “C” with lightning bolts coming out the sides.

In middle school and high school, she competed in the 100-yard dash, 100-yard hurdles, and 4×100 yard relay.  Later on, the measurements changed to meters.  In 8th grade, she set the record in the 4×100 relay.  In her scrapbooks, she keeps newspaper clippings, bib numbers, even the safety pins from that time.  She was also a half-back on the soccer team from 7th grade to 12thgrade.


“Can you find and bring down some of your old running stuff?” I ask.  Her story feels important to me, and this piece of her history isn’t something she talks about often.  To see the physical evidence of such a consistent career somehow will make it more real for me.

“If you give me 10 seconds I could find it right now.  Actually—don’t start counting—I’m only walking to get it.”

My mom has spent my entire life running.  I’ve never known her any other way, just like I have never known her without her thick circles of dark brown eyeliner and muscles strong enough to run machines to the ground.  I’m not certain of many things, but I do know for sure that she will never stop running.