Friday, December 12, 2014


The last few weeks have been extra busy at work. I decided to keep things as simple as possible, so I drove to work instead of riding my bike.

I missed my bike.

Today I rode, but before I walked out the door to head to work, I grabbed my camera, thinking I just might need it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Small Town Finds

In October, Hubby and I went to a small town north of where we live to ride the Hennepin Canal. We've ridden the I&M Canal at times and wanted to check out another section further west. Hubby took total control of putting this ride together, wanting us to have a day of riding, enjoying the fall colors and lunch at a diner along the route. The morning of the ride dawned chilly but sunny, and we set off, my only request being that we take the back roads to get to our destination. Hubby obliged.

Gears from a lock
That day, that ride, turned out to be one of those times I think back to often and smile. It was that good. Our planned 15ish miles of riding turned into 33 miles due to arriving at what we had hoped would be our lunch spot only to find the diner was no longer in operation. We were able to get a pop at the antiques store that was open, giving us at least a little bit of a boost to keep us going long enough to reach the small town of Sheffield about five miles south. There, we found Z Best Cafe on Main, and our lunch of sandwich, apple and onion soup, and bread pudding made the extra mileage worth riding (though Hubby would most likely say otherwise; extra mileage isn't high on his list of fun things to do).

A beautiful tree along the canal
Ever since enjoying our delicious lunch at Z Best Cafe, we have considered going back to have dinner. We were told dinner at Z Best is even better than lunch, and reservations are definitely needed to get a seat during dinner hours. We haven't done so yet, but we did return to the area yesterday
to check out another restaurant, Uptown Grill. There we feasted on mushrooms stuffed with crab meat and cream cheese, prime rib, portobello mushroom sandwich, and bread pudding (yes, anytime I can get bread pudding I do, along with apple martinis). Afterwards, as we walked to the car, we changed course and went inside The Pink Chihuahua: Small Bites and Cocktails, where I enjoyed a Harvester, an apple martini paying homage to fall with its infusion of cinnamon and other spices. All I can say is mmmmmmmm.

Today, before we headed back home, we traipsed around Lasalle County, eventually finding our way to St. Columba Cemetery, in search of the tombstone for Catherine Donohue, one of the Radium Girls. For whatever reason, I have an affinity for cemeteries, and whenever I have a chance to meander through one, I will. We had a picture of her gravestone, but we never found it. Perhaps next summer I'll cycle up to Ottowa and search again for the gravestone. Seems like as good a destination as any for an overnight cycling adventure. Maybe I'll search for her gravestone at night. I hear the graves of the Radium Girls glow in the dark (and I really want to find out if this is true--though I'm pretty sure it's not).

Tree growing around a gravestone

The gravestone from one of the cemeteries I walked about this
past summer. I love her name! I hope one day I have a
granddaughter named Spicy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Staying Awake and Open

Sometimes a gnawing sadness settles over me. Not often. Just every now and again. It’s been with me now for a few weeks, just enough for me to know it’s there. I recognize it for what it is and find ways to counter it, like riding my bike even though the temperature is below 20 degrees, and allowing myself to slip into comfy sweatpants and a warm sweater as soon as I get home from work, usually around 4 pm. This signals to the family that I’m done for the day. They tease me about my propensity for putting on pajamas so early. I just snuggle up on the couch and let the world go about its business without me. More recently, I found another way to ease the sadness. When I take the dogs for their walks, and Ado decides it’s time to sit down for a break, instead of tugging at him to continue, I let him sit. I watch where his eyes go and I look where he looks. One time he was watching a crow fly overhead. Another time he saw a couple of squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of a tree. Just yesterday, he sat and turned his head first one way, then the other. Then he stood and turned around until he found the wind chimes hanging near the front door of a house. Seeing the world just a little bit through Ado’s eyes softens the sad feeling. 

Today the sadness intensified a bit with Lovely Beautiful Daughter leaving to return to her new home on the east coast. Having her visit for the holiday gave me a chance to catch up with her and the life she is creating for herself. She's doing fine. I knew she would. That's just who she is and has always been. And while I'm happy for her, I also miss her terribly. All I kept thinking the entire time she was here is I wish she'd come home. And even though I promised myself before she arrived that I would not say anything about her moving back, I broke that promise, whispering to her as I hugged her tight while saying our goodbyes that she could come home anytime. Just say the word. Lovely Beautiful Daughter hugged me tighter, saying if she needed anything she would let me know. For now, I have to be content with the knowledge that she'll be returning in May for her brother's graduation.

To help myself navigate through the sadness, I've returned to a favorite book, Comfortable With Uncertainty, by Pema Chodron, and reread some passages I marked. One, especially, spoke to me: "If you . . . aspire to stay awake and open to what you're feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best you can in each moment, then something begins to change." It used to be that I wouldn't allow myself to be open to what I was feeling. I believed I needed to squash it, bury it, refuse to acknowledge it. Doing so only enhanced the feeling, making me sink further into it and feeling worse. Now, I allow myself to say hello to the feeling, examine it, think about why it might be a part of me at that given moment. Recognizing it, acknowledging it, and giving it its own space help me understand the feeling as well as myself better.

Tomorrow the sadness might still be with me, but that's okay. I already know having breakfast with my boys will make me smile. I know walking the dogs and seeing the goings-on of the world through Ado's eyes will make me smile. I know working with my students will make me smile. That's a whole lot of smiling to look forward to.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Break in the Cold

Though it's only November, the cold temps we've been having make it seem like it's January. I'm not totally opposed to the cold. In fact, I look forward to it every year. I love wrapping up in a comfy sweater and warm scarf. I'm thinking, though, by late January, if the frigid temps continue, I'm going to be more than ready for some spring and summer warmth. These cold temps so early also have me stressing over the bees. I know I can only do so much, which I'm trying to be sure to do, but I still worry.

Two weeks ago I removed the top cover on the beehive to put a fresh jar of sugar syrup in place of the empty jar. After removing the empty jar, I looked down through the frames. Nothing moved. Nothing. I couldn't see one single bee. In disappointment, I returned to the house to don my bee suit so I could go deeper into the hive to see if the bees were truly gone. As I was dressing, Funny Delightful Son asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was afraid all my bees were either dead or gone. He accompanied me to the hive to help me check. As soon as I removed the top cover, I saw the bees. They'd come up from wherever they had been in the hive for the new sugar syrup I'd put in place. A sense of relief washed over me. Funny Delightful Son teased me over my gloom and doom reaction to not seeing a bee the first time I'd opened the hive. "You know, Mom," he said matter-of-factly, "when it's cold, bees form a ball to create heat. They were most likely in a spot where you couldn't see them." Such a smartie pants.

Today the temps have warmed to right around 50 degrees. I knew I had to take advantage of the warmth to place a new jar of syrup in the hive. This time, when I opened the hive, a mass of bees were on the top bars. Some were even coming and going at the front entrance. I saw another drag a dead bee from the hive and take it to the ground a few feet in front. I decided to go ahead and install the mouse guard, just tacking it temporarily in place to see how it works. The space between the bars is barely enough for the bees to get through, so hopefully I'll not have mice getting into the hive and stealing all their food stores.

Though we're early into the winter weather, I'm feeling hopeful about wintering over my bees. At least they're still here at this point. The next four months will really be the test, though.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A First

Flat tire. First time. Happened sometime overnight while parked inside the shop. Already running late for work. No time to change out the tube. No worries. Just look up. Three more bikes hanging from the rafters. Hmmmmm. Which one to ride? The trusty blue cruiser it is.

During all my years of riding, I've never had a flat tire while out riding. Even as I went from Yorktown, VA to San Francisco, CA, I didn't have to stop by the side of the road to change out a tube. What are the odds? One of the other cyclists had a flat nearly every day, or so it seemed anyways. On one occasion, he had two flats within a couple of hours and didn't have a second spare, so I gave him one of mine. I've often wondered why one person has so many flats while another never has any. I do try to check my tires every day, making sure they're free of debris. I give them a good looking over, examining them closely for cracks, missing chunks of rubber, or anything that I might have picked up during a ride. So far this has served me well. I have changed out tires that have become worn and are just a whisper away from becoming a shredded mess. When I change out the tires, I change out the tubes just to have peace of mind.

Today, on the ride home at lunch to let the puppy out, I found myself having to maneuver around several trucks parked smack dab in the middle of the trail. Workers were busy trimming tree limbs away from the utility lines running alongside the trail. Most of the trees are Orange Osage, and they have some nasty thorns on their branches, so not only did I have to wind my way around orange cones and large "Tree Work Ahead" signs placed--guess where--smack dab in the middle of the trail, but I also had to be sure to avoid the branches and twigs lying across the pavement. I'll be surprised if I didn't pick up a thorn along the way. I might end up with a second flat waiting for me in the morning.

Thankfully my first flat happened right here at home. Part of me isn't surprised. I've been riding on that tire and tube for 5 years now. I'd have to say I certainly got my money's worth out of both.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Power of Writing

During my 15 years at my current position, I've had the opportunity to propose a special topics in English class to be listed on the schedule, and each time, though enrollment was on the lean side, the classes were given the go ahead. As such, I had a wonderful semester of reading and talking about literature of Golf. I had another semester of hashing out issues brought about through the readings for a Sports Literature class. While both of those classes were fun and gave me the chance to share my love for sport as well as my love of reading with students, they didn't leave me walking out of class at the end of the day with goosebumps like happened to me today.

This semester, I've had the pleasure of working with just a handful of students who signed up for a class on writing memoir. With only five students in the class, I can spend a lot of time with each, reading as they add to their memoir and giving immediate feedback to help them move further into their work. One particular student in the class I met last semester through another instructor, and after getting to know her a bit, I believed she would benefit from taking the memoir class and told her so. She wondered what she could possibly get from writing her memoir, to which I responded she'd have the opportunity to work through some issues in a safe environment. That's all it took for her to say yes.

The first week of class, I had the students write scenes for five different moments from their lives. From those five scenes, they had to choose one to use as the basis for their memoir. One student chose to go with the roller-coaster ride that has been her relationship with her boyfriend over the last seven years. Another student chose to write about finding then losing who he believes could have been the love of his life. The student I encouraged to sign up for the course decided to tackle the death of her brother, a subject that causes her much distress and difficulty talking about even after nine years of him being gone. I was afraid her decision might cause her to sink into a place of not being able to write, but I decided to let her go with it.

The following class period, this student came in with seven pages of her memoir. After workshopping her piece in class, she took her work and continued writing. Over the past eleven weeks, this student has been adding to and revising her memoir, very willingly taking my advice and that of her peers. Today, her memoir is nearly 20 pages. It offers a poignant glimpse of how the death of her brother at the age of 16 impacted her mother, her father, his friends, but mostly her. The reader learns about the close relationship between the writer and her brother, how he knew no enemies, and how his death meant others might continue living through the donation of his organs. It is in this vein that the piece ends with: "There was a point that night where I so badly wanted to ask if I could hear Dean's heart one more time, but considering I just met him and I barely knew him I felt awkward asking, but it kept going through my mind I just have to listen to his heart I just have to. I never did of course, but to this day I would love to go to his house and listen to the beat of Dean’s heart."

Even now I get goosebumps when reading what this student has written.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Otto's Impact

Before Otto:
  • Got up at 5:15 to begin the day, making sure I was out the door for work by 6:45 to be in my office by 7. Spent anywhere from 45 to 50 minutes preparing whatever needed to be completed for 8 o'clock class.
After Otto:
  • Get up at 5:15 to begin the day, going for a 20 minute walk with Otto and Max before leaving for work at 7:20. Spend 10 to 15 minutes preparing whatever needs to be completed for 8 o'clock class.
Before Otto:
  • Packed lunch to eat in my office between classes.
After Otto:
  • Leave work at midday to let Otto out and have lunch at home, with Otto bouncing around the kitchen.
Before Otto:
  • Had dinner then putzed around the house, cleaning, watching TV, finishing up student papers.
After Otto:
  • Go for a 30 minute walk with Otto and Max after dinner, play in the yard, spend the evening outside.
Before Otto:
  • Cycled to work then home.
After Otto:
  • Cycle to work.
  • Cycle home for lunch.
  • Cycle back to work.
  • Cycle home at end of day.
What a difference one little puppy has made.