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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Wind is My Friend

I peeked through the blinds around 11 o'clock to see what was happening outside our cozy little home. I could see the sun trying to break through the blue-gray clouds, the kind that usher in snow, and I could see our neighbor's birdhouse swinging from the force of the wind. Hubby asked what I was doing. Checking the wind, I told him. Because he had his new tablet sitting on his lap, he quickly tapped the weather icon. 22 mph out of the south, he said. Since 17 mph couldn't stop me from getting out for a ride two days ago, I wasn't about to let 22 mph stop me from getting a ride in today.

Wind from the side is much more tolerable than a headwind, so I started out heading southwest. Buildings are great windbreaks, but when there's a gap, watch out. That wind will just about knock you down. Riding on windy days doesn't appeal to a lot of people, but I like the challenge of staying steady, of keeping my speed above 14 mph, of not getting pushed off the side of the road or even into the middle of the lane (that would be bad if a car were coming up behind me). Wind really is a great workout partner. It never lets up. I've heard some cyclists complain about the wind, how you can't see it like you can a hill. At least with a hill, you can gauge how much effort you'll need to make it to the top. With wind, they say, you can't see it. I can see the wind; flags are great for judging from which direction and just how hard the wind is blowing, and the prairie grasses let me know, too. The turbines are the best, though, as they turn faster when the wind is blowing harder, and they, too, let me know from which direction the wind is coming.

Today the wind kept me on my toes, but in the process, my toes froze. By the time I reached the driveway, they were numb. I had decent socks on, but with it being only 39 degrees and the wind making it feel more like 30 degrees, my toes were the ones who suffered. Face was good. Fingers were toasty warm. I even broke a sweat and could feel it trickling down my back. But my toes were unhappy. Time to invest in some good wool socks and some shoe covers. Bike shop here I come.

This is a video I put together yesterday after playing with my Christmas present all day. Like I need another gadget to waste away the hours!

video

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Surrounded by Love

Yesterday, my family gathered to celebrate Mom's life at the church she and Dad called home for the last few years. White and yellow flower arrangements, red poinsettias, and white poinsettias adorned the area around the altar, giving off a cozy, warm feel. This warmth flowed through every hug, every squeeze of the hand, every wistful smile when Mom's name was spoken. Though the last two months have been incredibly difficult, yesterday the love and compassion shared by everyone helped ease the pain.

The most poignant moment for me (and I don't know at what part of the ceremony this happened as I was overcome with the sadness of saying goodbye to Mom while at the same time feeling such joy at my son's response, so now all I have is an awareness of this one, tiny moment in time) came when I was wiping tears from my cheeks. My youngest put his arms around me and whispered, "I've got you." I'll forever hold this memory close to my heart.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bounty From the Change Jar

My BTUSFMS change jar was nearly full, so I took it to the bank to see how much had been collected and to get a cashier's check to send off for the ride. Between the change and the bills, some of which had been handed to me by friends over the last month, the total came to $179.40! What a great check to put in the mail. The total amount raised for the ride thus far is now . . . drum roll please . . . $1004.40.

Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive. I will forever be grateful.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Cookie Tradition

For quite a few years, I lived close to Mom and Dad in Tennessee. They moved down in the mid 80's, having found a cabin that they fell in love with, on a hillside overlooking the Cumberland River. A year or two after they left the Midwest, I followed. It became a Christmas ritual for Mom and me to get together to bake butter cookies and decorate them. Even after I moved back to the Midwest, the kids and I continued the tradition of baking butter cookies and frosting them with all kinds of designs. This year, though, the baking got pushed to the side and I wasn't sure any cookies were going to be made.

Yesterday, I found the energy to get started on them. I mixed up the dough, covered it, and let it sit until this afternoon. Once all the hoopla of the day was over, I spent some time rolling the dough, cutting the shapes, baking, then decorating. Nothing fancy by any means, but just going through the motions brought back lots of wonderful memories of being in the kitchen with Mom, talking, laughing, watching the kids make a mess, and then eating all the cookies almost as fast as they were decorated.

Christmas cookies

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Granddaughter and Her Mimi

Because Beautiful, Lovely Daughter is in China, she wasn't able to tell her Mimi goodbye. The two were particularly close, and not being able to be here for her Mimi, not being able to tell her she loves her, and not being able to attend her service are causing Beautiful, Lovely Daughter to feel overwhelming sadness. I know she needs a hug. I know she needs a shoulder to cry on. But I'm here and she's there. The best I can do right now is chat with her when it's 6 pm here and 8 am the next day where she is.

Back Yard Show
When my daughter was three or so, I, being the slacker mom that I am most of the time, allowed her to watch Jurassic Park. She loved that movie. She knew all the lines and anytime we had jello for dinner, she would put a glob of it on her spoon then hold it up, get that fear-stricken look on her face, and shake her hand just enough to make the jello wiggle. Her Mimi used to get great pleasure out of her granddaughter's acting. To further hone her skills, Beautiful, Lovely Daughter took her acting to a higher level by creating and performing "Back Yard Shows" a la that big purple dinosaur. Her Mimi would help her put up sheets for backgrounds, make sets out of boxes and other items they could scrounge up, and even narrate some of the program.The two found all kinds of things to do to pass the hours.
 


Best Buddies
One night Beautiful, Lovely Daughter was sleeping over. Her Mimi thought it would be okay to allow her to have some Mountain Dew. This, combined with watching a movie about werewolves, put her granddaughter into overdrive: "Is the front door locked, Mimi? The werewolves could get in if it isn't. Are all the windows locked, Mimi? The werewolves could come through them if they're not." Her Mimi assured her that yes, the doors and windows were locked. The werewolves wouldn't be able to get in. "Even the upstairs windows, Mimi?" Mimi then told Beautiful, Lovely Daughter the werewolves couldn't get in the upstairs windows because they were too far off the ground. "But they could get a ladder and climb up it and come through the upstairs window, Mimi. Those need to be locked, too." Her Mimi never gave her Mountain Dew again, and scary movies were off limits as well.

Beautiful, Lovely Daughter has so many wonderful memories of times spent with her Mimi. I know she will hold onto them tightly, and over the next days, weeks, months, and years, she will pull them out to help her get past the sadness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How?

How do you write about someone slipping into death? Losing her battle against a foe she could never see but knew was there nonetheless?

How do you write about all the fears she voiced? Her worst that of being alone when the time finally arrived?

How do you write about the pain she experienced? So intense she curled into a ball and bit her fingers?

How do you write about her sadness at not being able to smile any longer? So deep her eyes shone with what little tears remained?

How do you write about her strength slowly draining away? Mustering all her energy to nod when asked if she knew she is loved?

How do you write about mere seconds of recognition registering in her brown eyes? Fleeting but hopefully giving her solace knowing family was there?

How do you write about a family gathered to say goodbye to a loved one slipping into death?

Elizabeth Ellen Heath Pauken, December 28, 1934 -- December 21, 2011, you are much loved and will be greatly missed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cycling Towards Solace

With the semester over and me back home today, I had time to get to the gym and put in an hour on the spinner. Since I haven't been cycling long distances for several months now, I wasn't too sure how the legs were going to feel. I found out they were just fine and could have gone longer. There were even moments I was so caught up in what I was thinking about that when I looked at how much time had passed I was surprised. Usually spinning bores me, but not today. Today spinning helped me work out some built up tension.

My mind is consumed with Mom's condition and the knowledge that any time I will receive a call saying she has slipped away. When I left yesterday, she was somewhere none of the rest of us could go. This morning, a text from my sister said she is still unresponsive, not eating, not drinking. Right behind all these thoughts are worries about my dad who has been the most wonderful husband and caretaker a wife could ask for. The last words Mom spoke were Friday morning, when she looked at Dad and said, "I love you, my darling." My heart warms and breaks at the same time when I think about the two of them gazing at each other, professing their love.

As I cycled towards 15.5 miles today, so many images of the last few days kept replaying. I know it'll take some time for the more difficult images to fade, not send that sour pang of sadness through me. In the mean time, I'm going to try and focus on that one sweet moment when two beautiful people were given the gift of saying "I love you" one last time.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Difficult Day

Today was probably one of the most difficult days I've ever had during my entire life. Watching a loved one decline and watching the love of her life struggle tears at the heart. I think I felt my heart break a little this afternoon from the pain I felt for my two very dear loved ones.

All we can do now is hold Mom's hand, talk to her in hopes she is hearing us, and be there for her. She appears comfortable. I hope wherever she is within herself she's laughing, playing the piano, dancing, riding horses, and all the other things she loved to do before life with MS.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Returning to Family

The last few days I've been at my parents, well, most of the time at the new nursing home Mom is now in. They have classified her as "end of life" care and are doing all they can to make her comfortable. She experiences small moments of knowing all of us, but for the most part she recedes to a place only she inhabits. We can tell when she's in pain, and we work to make the pain less so, but knowing to what level the pain is is almost impossible. Watching a loved one decline is incredibly difficult, but from another's suffering comes gifts for those of us saying goodbye.

The largest gift of all has been family getting to know one another again. Over the last thirty years, we've all led very busy lives, sometimes so busy we forgot about family. Occasionally we planned a family get-together, but those were few and far between. Since Mom's decline began, we've seen each other often, gathering at my sister's place, at the nursing home, and at restaurants for meals. We've remembered so many funny times, talked about our kids and their lives, and laughed over the goofiness of my younger brother. In the midst of loss, we are finding our way back to being family.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Giving A Little

Recently I joined a social networking site that's all about giving. I stumbled onto this site while researching MS, and for a good part of an evening I perused the postings, reading about all the different ways people from all different walks of life are giving. My heart swelled with each account of gift giving I read. Feeling like I'd found a home, I joined.

Much like feeling grounded and focused after applying for and being accepted as a cyclist for the Bike the US for MS TRANSAM route summer 2012, being a part of the giving challenge community has given me a way to mindfully walk through my days. I look forward to meeting the challenge every day, and instead of stopping with one gift, I'm constantly thinking about how to make each and every moment of my day a giving moment. While this may not be doable, the thinking about it keeps me in a positive mindset, and the what if's make me search for ways to make the ideas come to fruition.

Today's gift came about as my hair stylist told me about a family facing financial hardship after their son had to be hospitalized for asthma. They have no health insurance, and to pay for his medicine, they returned all the gifts they'd already wrapped and put under the tree. I didn't have much cash on me, but what I did I gave to my stylist to put with the package she was readying to take to the family. My donation was small, but maybe it will help pay for their son's medicine.

It doesn't take much to give a small gift every day. The pleasure that comes from doing so, the smile from the recipient, maybe even a hug, make the giving so worth the time and effort.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Certain Peace

Today I checked in with my BTUSFMS profile page to see if there'd been any action. Pleasantly surprised, I saw my total raised to date at $500. Scrolling down the list, I read the names of two friends who had made donations, and one anonymous donor adding to the total. I am so thankful to all who are talking about my upcoming ride, spreading the word about my ride to raise awareness, and also to those who have donated, helping me inch closer and closer to my goal. With the cash donations I have to submit, I'm at $620+, which is around the Hindman, KY point on the map.

I'm into my second week of my commitment to BTUSFMS, and I can't help but feel so blessed. I know without a doubt I made the right decision in applying for the ride and taking on the challenge of raising the money which will go to MS research. The support from family and friends has been absolutely awesome; talking with them about the ride gives me so much pleasure, and I feel a certain peace when it comes to my mom and her situation.

I still have a ways to go to make my fundraising goal, but I do have time on my side. My mom, I'm afraid, doesn't have time on her side. Knowing this is my motivation to raise the funds, ride across the country, and help those with MS along the way.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oogling My Goodies

I arrived home after a very long day yesterday to a package from Bike the US for MS. Though I was extremely tired, tired to the point of only thinking about putting on my jammies and vegging out on the couch all evening, excitement flowed at the thought of the goodies inside the box. Funny, Delightful Son was standing by the counter, almost as eager as I was to rip into the package. I told him to go ahead, and with a smile on his face, he picked it up and tore the tape off. He opened one flap then the other, reached in and pulled out a BTUSFMS water bottle. Next came a BTUSFMS navy blue t-shirt. Last were stickers, calling cards, and postcards. As I stood there, oogling my BTUSFMS goodies, Hubby looked at me and said, "Well, I guess it's official. You're really doing this."

Yes, I'm really going to ride my sweet, sweet Madone 3.1 from Yorktown, VA to San Fran, CA. I'm really going to try my darndest to raise $3785 (ideally more than that) between now and June 1, 2012. Neither the ride nor raising the money is going to be easy, but I truly believe living with the challenges of MS on a daily basis is far more difficult.

Since I made the decision to do the ride, I feel grounded. Before, right after Mom's collapse and her subsequent struggle, I was feeling like a balloon being blown every which way by the wind. Scattered is a good way of putting it. I felt scattered. I wanted to help, but I didn't know how. Now, with the ride and the fundraising as a focus, I feel so much more in control. I have something to work towards, and that something is to honor a person who has always been there for me through all my ups and downs. That something is also for the 400,000 plus who face the challenges of MS each and every day.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Initiation

Yesterday I received my initiation into nursing home care, and I have no other way to put it than it sucks. On the surface, the place where my mom is now a resident looks really nice. It's fairly new, with a beauty salon, a fitness center, a rec area, and other amenities. Stay just a few hours and you find out the facility is extremely understaffed, doesn't have enough supplies, and both of these create a situation where patients wait a very long time for care.

I arrived to find Mom in extreme pain. The spasms associated with MS have increased in frequency as well as intensity. I watched as my mom writhed in pain, sometimes breaking down and crying. The helplessness I felt was awful, and the look of grief on my dad's face was even worse. He and I finally said enough and collared the nurse, asking that she please give our loved one something for the pain. She came back quickly with a pain med. Mom was able to swallow it but because of her condition, she vomited a tiny amount back up within minutes. Thankfully, it appeared that most of the medicine stayed down, and within twenty minutes or so, the spasms subsided, giving Mom a break. She was much more comfortable and could carry on a conversation.

During the next few hours, I realized not one CNA or other nursing home personnel came in to check on Mom. I knew she had had a bowel movement, and I informed one of the CNAs of this, asking her to please change her. She did a cursory check to see if what I was asking for was warranted, then turned and said she didn't believe there'd been a bowel movement. She left. I'm a mom. I've changed many diapers. I know the smell of a bowel movement when it happens. All afternoon, for several hours, I kept smelling dirty diaper. Finally, a young CNA--only 18--came in and I asked him to check Mom. This time I stayed in the room and asked that he actually pull her pants down and undo the diaper rather than just lift it a little to check. What we found was not pretty. Because she had sat in it for several hours, bleeding sores developed, causing Mom further pain. I just wanted to scoop her up and take her home. I can take better care of her than what I saw in that nursing home.

I left last evening with a very heavy heart. I just kept thinking I wish I was filthy rich so I could bring Mom home and care for her. During her good hours of the day, I was able to tell her about the Bike the US for MS ride, and the smile she gave me along with the excitement in her voice at hearing this are all the incentive I need to move forward with raising the money for research and completing this ride.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Six months from today . . .

I will begin the cycling trip I've been wanting to do for some time now: Bike the US for MS. I'll be doing the TRANSAM route, which begins in Yorktown, Virginia and ends in San Fransisco, California. That's 3785 miles. Already I feel butterflies in the belly each time I think about setting off on this trip.

This is the ride I wanted to do last summer. Somehow, during one of my searches for a century ride to sign up for, I stumbled across the BTUSFMS site. I became enamored and was determined to apply. Before I went off half-cocked, though, I thought it only respectful to take the idea to the family and ask if they'd be okay if I was gone for the whole summer. Their responses ranged from Hubby saying, "What?!? Are you smokin' ganja weed?!?" to the boys exclaiming, "But who will feed us if you're not here?" I thought after letting the idea settle in for a week or two they would come around, but I was totally wrong. When I brought it up again, the response was a definite, "No. You shouldn't do this." So I put the idea away.

A couple of weeks into Mom's ordeal, the idea to do the ride hit me as we were returning home one evening after visiting her in the hospital. I mulled it over for a few days, reading the BTUSFMS site inside and out and watching all the videos about the ride I could find. One day, I casually mentioned to Hubby that I was thinking of applying to be one of the cyclists, and this time he didn't say no. He didn't really say anything, so I took that as his way of saying, "Sure, Honey. I think it's a fantastic thing to do. You go right ahead and apply." I applied. My acceptance email showed up the next morning. And that's when the butterflies started fluttering.

The family is supportive, but the guys still have a bit of uncertainty about me being gone for two months. Now the question is: can I, during the next six months, get all my ducks in a row for both the ride as well as my guys?

Here's a video of last year's BTUSFMS TRANSAM beginnings. Watching makes me excited and nervous, just like some in the video say.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fighting Frustration

So I got three good days of walking in then the work week hit and . . . nothing. Up at 5, to work by 7, done with work at 3:30, home by 3:45, errands if there are any, dinner, chat with Beautiful Daughter from 6-7, then more student work to finish, finally bed around 10. The thought there's always tomorrow offers some comfort, but so far tomorrow has come without a workout happening. Frustration is mounting.

Times like this I like watching motivational videos. This one is awesome and as soon as I'm finished chatting with Beautiful Daughter, I'm out the door and to the rec center.





***Update***: Mission accomplished. 15 minutes on the treadmill, 18 minutes on the spinner, and 15 minutes of upper body weights. Yeah, Baby!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Walk

Today's walk was a mile shorter than my walk yesterday, and it was quite a bit more brisk out, but I'm finding just how much I need physical activity of some sort to help me stay balanced. After only three days of taking an hour out of my day to get in a walk, I can honestly say I'm sleeping better, I'm more focused, and most definitely I'm easier to get along with. I know Hubby appreciates this last aspect.

Today's route was a first for me, mostly sidewalk with a mile jaunt around a city pond. My calf muscles, my feet, and my inner thighs suggested taking a break not long into the walk, but I told them all to hush and just deal. After about a mile, they all quieted down. At the two mile mark, I pulled the Garmin out to check my pace and heart rate. For not doing much of anything for quite a few weeks, I was pleased to see a 4.5 mph pace. Maybe in a week I can get the speed up another notch. My heart rate hovered just above 140, and at seeing this, that familiar thrill of burning calories surfaced.

Walking is a simple activity that doesn't require much skill. All I have to do is commit to doing it and follow through. For the sake of my well being, it's the least I can do.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 2 Getting Back At It

Since mid September, I haven't done much in regards to working out. Several things were pulling at me--work, my daughter being gone, Hubby still not finding employment--and I let the one thing that really does wonders for my state of mind be the one thing to got pushed to the side. Now, when I look back over the last two and a half months, I realize my semi unhappiness with my life can be chalked up to me stepping away from something as simple as walking for an hour a day. In a way, I'm kind of like the people who get depressed during the wintertime and use a day light to ease their distress. I need exercise to ease mine.

So yesterday I got back out there and walked for a little over an hour. The route I took is a path that offers lots of nature--squirrels, lots of different birds, a pretty little black and white cat sunning itself, and a pond with lots of geese coming and going. The path is also away from traffic and doesn't get a lot of use, with me being the only one walking it, so the only noises I had to deal with were that of nature.

Today I took a different route, all sidewalk. With the earphones in, I enjoyed the just under 5 miles while listening to good music--David Gray, Adele, Coldplay, Foster the People. I ended with an average pace of 4.4 mph, which isn't so bad considering I haven't been out and I definitely haven't been pushing myself for quite a few weeks now. I even jogged the last half mile, which is quite something given I'm not a jogger/runner by any stretch of the imagination.

Now I have the rest of the day ahead of me, and while I have some work to get finished up, a house that needs some attention, and grocery shopping to do, I don't feel overwhelmed. I feel very ready to tackle it all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bountiful Thanksgiving

My always funny, always delightful boys, Hubby, and I traveled to Indiana to spend the day with my dad, my sister and her husband, and after dinner, a short visit with mom. Because she's been having some rough days, we decided to break up the visits, with only a couple of us going at a time rather than all of us and tiring her out too much. While Mom was noticeably uncomfortable due to increased pain, she put on a smile and seemed to enjoy seeing her grandsons. They did their darndest to make her happy and accomplished doing so by telling Chuck Norris jokes. Those can definitely make a person laugh.

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, number one on the list being having the opportunity to be with my mom. Seeing her in pain, seeing her frustration, seeing her apart from her family gathered around a table filled with a bountiful feast make me sad, but seeing her smile at the boys and the boys give her hugs and hold her hand is priceless. I hope for just a second she was able to forget the pain, the frustration, and not being home.

What's to come is uncertain. I do know of one certainty though: my parents' unwavering devotion to one another. Throughout the time we spent visiting, my parents held hands. So much comfort can come from such a small gesture.

We all should hold hands more often.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When It Rains . . .

Hubby snores. Loudly. To the point that I sometimes sleep on the couch. Tonight, I thought I'd go ahead and sleep in Lovely Daughter's bed as she's in China and her room seemed lonely. In the dark, I pulled back the covers and slid under the comforter. Really looking forward to a night of quiet in a comfy bed, I was shocked when my feet touched what felt like a huge wet spot on the mattress. The first thought I had was the family dog had somehow gotten into her room and had had an accident on Lovely Daughter's bed, but I knew that was unlikely as he'd been downstairs with us all evening then went to his own bed when the boys said goodnight to me. I got up, turned on the light, and with dismay discovered a very large wet area on the ceiling. I stood on the mattress and poked at the spot: saturated and about ready to drop. Perfect.

While nothing can be done tonight, I know tomorrow holds a day of cleaning bedding, drying out a mattress, and fixing a ceiling, which means figuring out where the leak is in the roof. Thankfully I found the problem before the ceiling actually fell, so that's a positive, but I'm not looking forward to the work ahead of us. Nope, not at all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Great Day

Yesterday Hubby and I drove over to see Mom. I'd heard from my sister that she was doing well after having a rough day on Wednesday. I really didn't know what to expect when I walked in, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see Mom sitting up, her hair washed and styled, a smile on her face, and her very much aware of who I was. She looked and acted like the Mom I knew before almost losing her.

We stayed all afternoon, leaving for about an hour to have some lunch, and to let Mom visit with some friends who'd driven a long ways to see her. When we returned to her room, we talked and laughed, reminiscing about my childhood days, my high school days, and my life now. The friends from Michigan, who'd babysat me when I was a baby, filled us in on their kids' lives and their own. Somehow, talk turned to playing euchre, and Mom was determined she was going to play. Hubby scrounged up two decks of cards from the nurses' station, this after he sweet talked one of the nurses into giving Mom a hamburger for dinner, so we set about creating a table over Mom's bed. Then I dealt the first hand. For the next hour, we played Mom's favorite game, and she showed she not only remembered all the rules, but she could give me clues to what was in her hand to help me out when bidding. I marveled at how in three weeks my mom went from having her parish priest rush to the hospital to read her last rites to playing bid euchre.

Today, my sister told me Mom wasn't so good again. And this seems to be the pattern she's fallen into: one good day, a couple of rough days. I'm just very thankful I was able to enjoy a great day with her. We don't know what's ahead, so all we can do is enjoy each and every moment we have, whether it be rough, good, and if we're lucky, even great.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Foggy Days

My days this week have been foggy; I know I worked, and I know I spent time with my boys just like I always do, but distraction was ever present. A colleague came to my door Tuesday as I gazed at my binders, trying to figure out which one I needed for class. He said hello, and his greeting registered, but several seconds passed before realization of my rudeness kicked in and I looked up to say hello. I apologized for being impolite, to which he laughed and said no problem. That's how the entire week has been: going through the motions while being somewhere else.

I visited Mom yesterday. Last Saturday when I left the hospital, she was responsive, able to identify each of her six children, able to answer questions. Yesterday, she was a little slower in answering the questions, taking quite a long time to process the information before responding. In addition to her processing of information having been affected, so has her short term memory. It is gone. I was sitting next to her for a couple of hours then moved to a chair beside my dad. After several minutes, she demanded to know who was sitting there. When I stood and smiled at her, the puzzled look on her face told me she'd forgotten I was there. Dad said she does that often now.

The physical therapist worked with Mom, helping her learn how to roll onto her side then push herself to a sitting position. Mom fussed, insisting she was going to fall off the bed. Her sense of balance has been knocked out of kilter. The therapist wouldn't say if it would return. I sat across from mom, at the ready just in case she toppled forward. Afterward, Mom commented she must not be doing well, she must be much worse than anyone is letting on because they took her IVs away. Dad and I assured her she was doing fine and didn't need the IVs because she was eating and drinking. Dad held her hand, telling her that because she was able to sit up with help, he is certain she will be going home soon. The doctor didn't seem as hopeful as my dad.

All we can do is wait. Mom waits to see if she will improve further. Dad waits for the moment he can take his wife of 54 years home. I wait for the fog to lift. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wrapped in Sadness

Fourteen years ago, my mom was diagnosed with MS. Since that time, not a moment of her life has passed without her condition being that pesky fly buzzing around her head and not going away no matter how many times she swats at it. As the years have gone by, I've watched her struggle to remain the vibrant and mobile mom, grandma, wife she was used to being for all of us. For the last eight years, the MS seemed to have leveled off, seeming satisfied that my mom was confined to a wheelchair but able to still do some things that gave her great pleasure, like visiting friends once a week for breakfast. About three weeks ago, though, the MS raised its ugly head and showed us all it's still very much in control, and then last week, the call came that Mom was in the hospital, the outlook grim.

When I arrived to Mom's hospital bed, I realized I wasn't as prepared for the more difficult days to come as I had thought I was. Since her diagnosis, I've read as much about MS as I could. I've talked with Mom about how she's feeling and the meds she takes. I've helped take care of her. At times I considered how I might feel the moment Mom was no longer able to even sit in a wheelchair and would have to spend her time bedridden, most likely in a nursing home, away from the love of her life. But none of this prepared me for the sadness I'm feeling. To see someone I love trapped, unable to make sense of what's happening to her, breaks my heart. During the past eight years, when the MS would do something crazy like take away her sense of smell, I could hug her, make a joke that she was better off because of the stink coming from the boys' socks. She'd see the humor and some of her dismay would ease at least a little. This time, a hug and a joke won't ease her dismay.

And I'm not sure what will ease my sadness.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tomato Soup with Ray Charles

My whole cooking at home and keeping track of just how much I'm spending per serving is becoming an obsession. Now, not only am I obsessed with calories in and calories out, but I'm obsessed with money in and money out. I truly had no clear idea just how much eating out was costing us until I began keeping track of what I'm buying and how much that breaks down when examined through the perspective of per serving.

Let's take last night's dinner of homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese and this morning's breakfast of french toast topped with bananas foster. The bread used for the sandwiches and the french toast cost $2.99. Five sandwiches were made for dinner and three servings of french toast were made for breakfast, giving me a 37 cents per serving cost. The tomatoes, leek, and onion for the soup cost $11.75, and from that I got four servings, giving me a $2.93 cost. While that's significantly higher than just buying a can of tomato soup, I have the comfort of knowing exactly what's in the soup, which to me is priceless, and I have the memories of spending time in the kitchen, preparing the meal while listening to some Ray Charles and drinking a cola and whiskey on the rocks. But I digress. The other product raising the overall total per serving is the cheese. It cost $8.60, and so far, I've gotten five servings from it. That many servings still remain, so in the end, the cheese will actually be an overall lower per serving expense. Right now, just looking at five servings, the cheese costs $1.72 each. After another five servings, the overall expense for the cheese will be a mere 86 cents.

So, in the end, from products that cost me $30, I was able to get two meals designed to serve four people per meal (though it was just the boys and me for dinner then Hubby, Soft-Hearted Boy, and me for breakfast). The boys each had two grilled cheese sandwiches along with their soup, having found the delight of dipping their sandwiches into the soup, exclaiming how delicious grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup tastes (another priceless moment for me). Not to be outdone, breakfast filled the air with the mouth-watering aroma of bananas simmering in brown sugar, butter, and rum, starting our Saturday morning with contentment. In the end, when it's all said and done, the per meal cost will be right around $4. I know I can't take the family anywhere and have these same meals for $4 each. When we go out, the bill usually averages $35-$50 dollars, not including the tip. And honestly, the tips I get--kisses on the cheek and "thanks, Mom, that was really good"--are way better than handing over a  $5 tip to someone else (wow, I'm really becoming a miser).

I really wish I'd figured this whole eating out v. eating in a whole lot sooner. In the back of my mind, I knew we were spending a huge amount each year just in eating out, but it was so easy to bury the knowledge and simply say "it can't be that much more." Well, guess what, it truly is "that much more."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sleepy Sleepy

Ever since the real fall weather moved in a couple of weeks ago, I've had a tough time feeling truly energetic. I'm convinced my body knows the days are cooler, and the sun rises later and sets earlier, and my body's response is sleep. Please.During the dark hours, all I want to do is sleep, which means from about 6 o'clock pm to 7 o'clock am, the only appealing thought I have is climbing into bed and snoozing. I've given into the urge a couple of times, but the last few nights I've stayed up later (past 9 pm--I know, I know, that's not late at all) and woke up a lot during the night. Good, quality sleep just isn't happening. This makes me sleepy during the day. Quite the vicious cycle going on right now.

Today  the temps were back up in the high 70s. Tomorrow we're looking at the mid 50s. I much prefer the lower temps. Not only do I not sweat buckets when commuting to work, but I get to fix all kinds of wonderful stews, soups, and other hearty dinners. Tonight was rump roast with celery, carrots, potatoes, and leeks. Thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf added their herb magic. Like last week with the organic chicken, I had Hubby get the roast from the organic grocery, so we enjoyed grass-fed beef without mega amounts of horrendous chemicals pumped into it. I even have some leftovers for my lunch tomorrow, so I'm very happy with another dinner that didn't cost more than $20. I'm digging this being economical with meals. I can't think of another feeling that's much better than what comes from stretching the dollar. Well, I can think of a couple, but . . ..

I do think part of my sleepiness is due to not cycling like I had been. I've gone from almost 200 miles a week to around 50 miles a week. That's quite a difference. My body may be saying get moving again, do something, anything, just move. Two months of being a sloth is a long enough break, and I can tell I'm ready to get back at it because when I watch a cycling program or a fitness program, I want to get dressed and get to work. I'm thinking weight lifting and lots of core work through the winter months. I was inspired by a crossfit program recently and am determined to be able to do one handstand push-up by April. Just writing about getting fit through the winter is making my sleepies go away.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stretching the Organic Chicken

On Thursday, I asked Hubby to go to our organic grocery store and buy a free-range chicken. He wasn't too happy about doing this, but he did, and when I got home from work, he held the packaged chicken up, pointing at the price, saying, "Seventeen dollars." I knew the chicken was going to be more expensive than the chicken sold at the grocery store we usually frequent, but I also knew the taste would more than make up for the overall cost. I also had a plan for getting more than one meal out of this expensive purchase.

So late yesterday afternoon, I set to work. With the help of my now-favorite cookbook, An Everlasting Meal, I placed some carrots, celery, onions, and herbs in a pot. I put the chicken on top of these ingredients then covered it all with water. For about an hour, the chicken and veggies simmered, filling the house with an aroma that rousted the boys from their bedroom and brought them downstairs, exclaiming, "What is that wonderful smell?"

While the chicken was cooking, I mashed up some mostly rotten bananas and made banana bread to have with our meal. While the bread baked, I went to work creating an appetizer of thin slices of rosemary and olive oil bread topped with very thin slices of Honeycrisp apple and dollops of melted pecorino cheese. I urged the boys to try the ensemble. Within a matter of minutes, the bread, apple, and cheese combo disappeared. My oldest returned to the kitchen today to make more of this delicious dish for his lunch.

The chicken finished cooking after about an hour of simmering, so I pulled it from the pot and let it rest. Into the pot I put more carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and fennel. These I let cook in the stock until the veggies were just softening. With a slotted spoon, I removed most of the veggies to have with our chicken. The boys helped set the table, after which they added the veggies, chicken, and banana bread. It really did look like a feast. Upon the first bite, Hubby conceded that the free-range chicken did indeed taste better than the usual grocery store chicken, but he still wasn't pleased at having to spend $17 for one chicken.

I smiled and did some math: $17 to feed four people is $4.25 each. Plus, now that I had the stock which still had veggies in it, I could add more veggies, some noodles, and all of the chicken I could pick off the carcass to make soup, giving us another meal. That would mean the $17 would have gone to make 8 servings, costing about $2.13 for each. With the soup, there will be the added expense of more veggies and the noodles, but those are pennies on the dollar. In the end, the $17 chicken not only gave us extra flavor but also less worry about ingesting pesticides, antibiotics, and other unwanted chemicals. Hubby rolled his eyes at the last part; he's not the pesticide, anti-antibiotic, chemical warrior that I am. But he did like the idea of getting two meals out of the one chicken. Very economical as well as tasty.


That's what An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler, is all about: getting the very most out of your money in these trying times. I really like that idea.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Son-shine

When my alarm went off this morning at 5 am, I snuggled into my pillow, reluctant to get up. I could hear the wind blowing the rain against the bedroom window. The forecast had called for a blustery, cold, and wet day, and that's exactly what Mother Nature was serving up, making it not the kind of day for riding a bike to work. Today would be the first day in two weeks for driving.

I was a bit bummed over not being able to ride, and when I saw some die-hards with their heads down, pedaling with everything they had into the 25 mph westerly winds, I saluted. After the first of the day's meetings, a colleague asked how far my commute is, and when I answered 3 miles from my house to the office, he seemed genuinely impressed. I had to laugh, though, as the 3 miles seems really, really short. I guess from the perspective of someone who doesn't cycle, 3 miles does seem a good distance.

My son wasn't nearly as bummed as I about not being able to ride this morning. We've taken to riding together, splitting off at the mile and a half marker, he pedaling on to school while I pedal on to work. We then ride home together in the afternoons. I've been enjoying watching him become a stronger cyclist. Even just doing the six miles a day has made a difference in his endurance. The first two weeks he was huffing and puffing after a mile or so. Now he zooms past me, stops and looks around, waving to me to speed up. I can only go so fast on Old Faithful, though, and I like being able to go only so fast. I get to enjoy everything I'm passing. We have some great talks as we ride, and we have fun, too, like Monday, when we played polo with the hedge apples along the trail. I kicked one a long ways. My silly son about crashed when he kicked one right against his front tire, making it jerk to the left. The best of our rides, though, came yesterday on our way home, when my son looked at me and said, "I really like riding to school and home." Yeah, me too. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sadness Visits Every Now and Then

Around this time two years ago, I was bouncing down the stairs to join my family in the kitchen for breakfast, before taking off for work, when my daughter asked me if I remembered a young man I had met once before, at the Day of Writing event held on campus. I said of course I remember him; he was one of four high school students I worked with, and of the four, he was the one I knew was going to go somewhere someday, be something someday. I had gone home that afternoon following the Day of Writing and told my daughter about this young man. She knew him from school, and yes, he was intense. I told her I thought this young man was brilliant. She'd laughed at this when I said it, but this particular morning, when she asked me if I remembered him, she wasn't laughing. She wasn't smiling. He killed himself, she told me.

I cried for most of the drive to work, wondering why. Why did this young man end his life? Why did he feel like it was the only way out? Why didn't he realize how brilliant he was? Why didn't he realize how much he had to offer the world?

As I drove, "Fugitive" by David Gray came on the radio. Ever since that day, I think of this young man whenever I hear "Fugitive." The song just played as I sat here, working on class materials, and with the gray weather, the much cooler temps, I went right back to that day when sadness over a young man's death was my companion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making It Happen

Since last Thursday, I've cycled every day: commuting to work, going to the grocery store, to the nursery to get pumpkins, to the coffeehouse to write, even to my hair appointment. I'm beginning to figure out this bicycle transportation only thing.

Monday, on my way home from work, I was cycling along the trail and was stunned with the number of squirrels out. The mother earth part of my psyche thinks the cold is on the way judging from all the activity. I got to laughing after almost running over a squirrel carrying a black walnut in its mouth, that all the sudden decided it didn't want to run alongside me and tried to cross in front. The little varmint came within a whisker of getting squished. It realized it's predicament, dropped its nut, and turned away to scurry off into the grass. When I rode around a curve just a few feet beyond, I met a man walking a dog. The dog was carrying a frisbee in its mouth and seemed very content with how silly it looked.

Today, the rain started right when I left campus. All day long, I looked out, wondering if the 50% chance of rain was really going to tip and become 100%. All day long, nothing. Then, when I walked out to Old Faithful, I realized raindrops were dotting the sidewalk. As soon as I hit the trail, the rain came harder. Most of the ride was through a gentle shower. While I didn't get soaked, I was wet enough to have to change when I got home.

This weekend, the plan is to get some wet weather gear. And I think I'll take a change of clothes to the office just in case I get caught unprepared. Probably not a bad idea to have that back up just in case.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Riding in a Skirt and With Good Looking Hair

My desire to cycle as much as possible is taking shape. For about two weeks there, the cycling wasn't happening just because of life and the little things that can get in the way. I finally decided that if I'm going to do this, I just need to make it a part of my life and change other areas to suit the cycling. One of those areas is what I wear when I'm cycling. I want to be able to dress nicely for work, but my hybrid isn't really conducive to dress pants, skirts, and dresses. Getting on and off the bike in a skirt might create a rather humorous situation, and because the chain guard is mostly non-existent, my dress pants end up with grease on the pant leg. The answer to my dilemma was hanging in the garage this whole time: my deep blue Town and Country Cruiser, a birthday gift from Hubby several years ago. (Picture at right is the bike I have with a very similar basket, but the picture is of someone else's bike.)


When the light bulb finally went on, I ran out to the garage and pulled my trusty Old Faithful from its hooks and aired up the tires. I snapped the basket onto the front handlebars then stood back just to get a good look at the bike I used to ride then sort of forgot about after getting the hybrid and especially after getting Sweetness. Old Faithful certainly has a place in my cycling life though for a long time I couldn't see it.

Today, I donned a skirt and pretty blouse, and because it's still quite warm for this time of year in central Illinois, I was able to wear sandals. Because Old Faithful is built to allow me to step through, I was able to do all mounting and dismounting with an ample amount of modesty. Once in the saddle, I was good to go and the ride went just fine. The skirt edged up a tad, just enough to show my lovely summer cycling tan, so I do think next time I'll wear spandex shorts underneath just for added mental comfort.

After work, I cycled to my hair appointment. The young woman who cuts and colors my hair loves to play with styling it afterward, and like usual, she went to work curling it and just having some fun. I laughed, telling her she didn't need to as I had ridden my bike. She kept on, saying I was at least going to be riding with good looking hair. After the mile and a half ride home, I had to agree, my hair did look pretty good.

Sometimes it takes awhile to recognize the answer to a problem. I'm just glad my answer was here all along.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Today's To-Do List

Make oatmeal for the boys' breakfast--check (I love making sure they have something in their tummies to start the day, and my oldest told me this morning he loves that I fix breakfast for them. Awwwww.).

Grocery shopping--check (and we kept the total below budget. Love it when that happens.).

Buy pumpkins and mums for front porch--check (realized our flag pole and flag were missing; darn college students anyway. Not only do we have to deal with them walking by at all hours of the night, laughing, yelling and even ringing our door bell on occasion, and pulling slats off our fence then throwing them in the street, but now they've taken our flag).

Two loads of laundry and hang out--check (beautiful sun and wind combo made the drying process go by fast today).

Wash the duvet and down comforter and hang out--check (time to pull out the winter ensemble with these cool nights we've been having).

Put clothes away--check (one of my least favorite jobs; just so tedious).

Cut out dead flowers from flower garden and remove wasted from garden--check (I found my wind chime that had been swallowed by morning glory vines!)..

Fix chicken and cheese tortilla tower for dinner--check (yummy; earned me a kiss on the cheek from my youngest).

Sit on back deck to read A Moveable Feast--going now, and don't forget the bottle of Hey Mambo (a Don Sebastiani and Sons sultry red wine that is absolutely delicious).

Yeah, it's been a good day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Great Idea, But Who Can Afford These?

As a cyclist who is commuting more and intentionally trying to make my bike my main mode of transportation, I'm really interested in clothing that can go from the bike to the office and clothing that helps me be seen by motorists. Some of the garments offered by Vespertine definitely make me smile as they are not only fun and stylish, but are also made to increase the safety factor when cycling. However, when I went to their shop, I became dismayed over the prices. I can't even afford the short scarf. While I applaud Vespertine for creating stylish cycling safety wear, I do have to wonder, who can afford these?

After Nearly Two Years

After watching someone near and dear to me struggle to find a job for almost two years, I'm ready to join the protesting.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Deep Breath Out

For several weeks I've been keeping a low profile just to gather myself and become more centered. With all the fun and excitement of summer abruptly coming to an end, replaced by a more rigid schedule, the funk overtook me. Instead of fighting it, I let it settle around me, even wrapped myself in it like it was a warm, winter blanket. I made one short-term change--not cycling at all for three weeks--and one permanent change--deleting my dailymile.com account, to give myself space to breathe. The time away from cycling allowed me to not pour all my focus into mileage, speed, and how many calories I burned. I did commute to work, but those rides were slow, giving me a chance to look around and enjoy the scenery. The deletion of my dailymile account came about after admitting I was stacking myself up against my "friends" posting their workouts rather than using the site to just track my rides. The pressure I was putting on myself was ridiculous. I want to cycle just to cycle and enjoy the time out, the scenery, and how it helps me stay healthy. Not because someone posted a ride of 75 miles, or someone else posted a ride of 50 miles at 22.3 mph pace and I need to ride as far or farther, as fast or faster. Not healthy.

The Mysterious Praying Mantis
So I've been spending time with my boys, reading, and writing. With the boys, we've been enjoying watching the BBC program Dr. Who. Cheesy? Definitely. Fun? As The Doctor would say, "Oh yes." And for days following watching an episode, we're talking about the issues raised: compassion, friendship, bravery, even genocide. These make for great conversations. My reading has been almost completely short stories, but I'm also enjoying Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and A Moveable Feast. Dillard's Tinker Creek makes me consider the more philosophical issues of life: time, space, interconnectedness. Hemingway's A Moveable Feast helps me make connections between writers I've read and who influenced each other, among other things. Both have impacted how I'm viewing my own writing, which is coming along. I'm working on the last story for my collection, and though it's a tough write, I'm going to slog through it as this story means more to me than all the other stories of the collection.

At this point, the feelings of being off kilter are fading. The desire to get back on the bike is growing, especially after our last organized event last Sunday when we rode 42 miles through beautiful central Illinois countryside and ate pumpkin pie at the finish line. Work is chugging along smoothly; I couldn't have asked for a better semester thus far. Life is good.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Walking Naked

Leaving the Garmin and the headphones at home gave me the opportunity to walk without constantly thinking about my pace, the mileage, what song was playing. Instead, I was treated to the sounds of the neighborhood and beyond as I walked.

Two blocks away, someone in a garage brought out the rata-tat-rata-rata-tat-tat of the drums. Not far beyond the drummer, two groups of young men were circled up on the field of the elementary school to play ultimate frisbee. A deep voice yelled out, "Zig zaggy zig zaggy." And the group answered, "Oy, oy, oy." This they repeated three times then ended it with a raucous, "Whewwwwwww!" One member of the other group took exception to the enthusiasm and sneered, "Team cheers are so ten years ago. Get with it."

As I continued on, I heard the city bus coming up behind me. I've learned their unique sound signature from the days commuting to school and the bus following me down the street every now and then. A low-pitched roar indicates the bus is coming to a stop. A high-pitched whine let's me know it's accelerating. While I haven't taken the city bus in quite a few years, I always keep it in mind for that just-in-case moment when I might need it.

At my turn around point, I heard the chitter of the starlings sitting overhead on the power lines. In between the chitter an occasional musical whistle floated onto the evening air. I thought about Annie Dillard describing the starling in her wonderful book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. More a nuisance than a welcomed visitor at the bird feeder, the starling is the odd bird out because, well, they aren't all that pretty and they stink, literally. The story behind their arrival to the United States is very interesting, but the bird itself isn't so interesting.

On my return home, the ultimate frisbee players were gone from the field next to the elementary school, replaced by young girls playing soccer, their parents dutifully set up on the sidelines, sitting in the ever favorite fabric folding chairs. I passed the drummer in the garage who was still rata-tat-tatting away. As I walked the last block towards home, an acorn plunked against the sidewalk just in front of me, its cap splitting off and landing in the grass. I opened the front gate, the clasp tinking as I lifted it away from the small bar that keeps it in place, and was happy that I had walked naked.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I Knew The Garmin Was Playing With Me

During my last long walk, the Garmin showed that I'd expended over 1500 calories during a 5.5 mile walk. I knew this was bogus but being the numbers junkie I am, I played along and did the boogie woogie over the large number of calories supposedly burned. My most recent walk, 6.7 miles, a whole 1.2 miles farther than the previous walk, showed only 800+ calories burned. Half of the previous walk. Ahh, well, better than no calories at all.

Today is a rainy day, so most likely no long walk. This might actually be a good time to get the treadmill and trainer set up again, for days like today, when being outside isn't conducive to a happy, productive walk. Hubby bought another membership at the rec center for the semester, but I'm determined not to do this. While I thoroughly enjoyed going during the spring semester, I've decided to go another route: using the equipment I already have right here at home and the natural jungle gym beyond my front door.

I have a weight bench, bands, treadmill, trainer, and an apparatus for doing pull ups, leg lifts, and other exercises. I also have workout DVDs that kick my rear end. When the urge to go outside hits, I can walk/jog without feeling afraid, even after dark, since I live in a safe area. What more do I need? Sure, during sub zero temps I'll be wishing for the toasty warm rec center, but many cultures have adapted to cold weather: Eskimos, Icelanders, Greenlanders, and Scandinavians to name a few. I, too, can adapt. And in the process, I can save some money, but even more importantly, I can create memories from my time exploring the winter world around me, something that can't be done inside a rec center.

That's the plan. I'm looking forward to seeing how things go, and if I break down and end up at the rec center, I'll humbly hang my head and admit I'm not as tough as I think I am.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Calories Burned Junkie

Without a doubt, I am a calories in/calories out junkie. The high I get seeing the amount of calories I've burned during a ride or during a walk/jog makes me giddy. And this evening, when I pulled out the Garmin to check my mileage, I saw I'd already reached 900+ calories after only 2.28 miles (I think my Garmin was playing with me; I really don't think it was accurate). However, just for kicks, I'm going to go with it and say BAMM! lovin' the numbers. By the time I was finished with the 5.5 miles, the calories out showed 1674 (again, I think my HR monitor and Garmin were in cahoots over this one). Thinking over what I ate for the day, my calories in isn't much more than my calories out. As an athlete, I know this isn't a good way to go, but as a woman who has a fear of underarm flab, back fat, and a spare tire, the calories out equaling or surpassing the calories in brings me peace.

You'd think that with everything I've read about nutrition over the last couple of years I'd have this eating thing down. Truth is, I don't. I'm still struggling with eating on a regular schedule, eating healthful foods, and eating enough period. I'm definitely not wasting away; I've always leaned towards being on the muscular side, which I'm okay with, and more recently with all the cycling, the muscle tone is better than it has been for years. Seeing these positive results makes me slouch when it comes to the healthful eating. I allow myself to fall into the greasy pit of "I can eat anything I want--hey a double hamburger and fries sounds really good." With the easing up of cycling, though, which means less calories being left on the roads, the chance of developing underarm flab, back fat, and a spare tire is very real if I succumb often to the hamburger/fries temptation.

Somehow I need to nip that bud before it blooms. I'm not exactly sure how to do that, but with the settling into the classes routine beginning to happen, maybe I can give this a little more attention.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Summer Slipping Away

The cycling season is slowly heading towards the day when the bike will be hung up for the winter months. Tree leaves are beginning to show signs of going from green to red or yellow. The corn stands brown and dried, some fields already harvested. Woolly caterpillars inch their way across the roads. The geese gather in strange places: a school yard, a bare soy bean field. And the wind seems to never cease.

The calendar shows fall nearing, ready to go shoulder to shoulder against summer and push it out of the way. Summer tries to carry on, with warm days, zinnias still in bloom. Fall has the upper hand, though, bringing earlier sunsets, cooler nights, later sunrises, and morning ground mists.

Cycling through these days I feel summer slipping away.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

After Giving Up the Running . . .

I'm back at it. Yeah, I know. I'm fickle.

The thinking about running again started last Saturday, as Hubby and I were out cycling. I was mulling over how I fulfilled all my goals for the summer--giving the sprint tri another go (I actually did three, my best of the three showing I shaved off 20 minutes from last year's attempt) along with completing at least 3 century rides--and I was wondering what my next step was going to be. The first thing that came to mind was running. I'm seriously insane to even entertain the idea, but yesterday I went out and walked/jogged 4.65 miles. Today I went out for a 5.53 mile walk/jog. Now, my legs are mad at me, actually screaming at me when I go up and down the stairs, but I like the soreness. Makes me think about the day after my last century ride when my legs were sore and I thought of the soreness as a badge of honor for the effort I had put in during the ride. I feel that same way today after walking/jogging. I like that.

Part of the attitude change is I'm not putting on the pressure to be fast. I'm not fast. I never will be. What I do have is endurance. I can go for a long time without getting terribly fatigued. That's gotta be worth something, right? Yesterday while I was out, I used the Garmin to keep track of my pace, HR, and distance. I kept a brisk 4.5 mph pace going, breaking into a jog every now and then to raise my HR, bringing it back down after a half mile or so and repeated. As it was my first day out, I decided to just do between 4 and 5 miles to see how things went. At the end, feeling peppy and re-energized after a couple of weeks of the blahs, I planned out my next day's walk/jog. Today was that walk/jog. I added on over a half mile, maintained the same pace as yesterday, and felt incredible when I reached the driveway.


I'm glad I gave up the running when I did. My attitude towards it wasn't healthy. Being away from it gave me the opportunity to get more miles on the bike, and spending so much time in the saddle allowed me to make peace with my turtle running pace. Just like the pace while on the bike doesn't matter, neither does it while running. Getting out and moving should be the focus: slow, in-between, fast, whatever. That's where the happiness is.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Battle is Raging

I've got the blah's. For about two weeks now, I've not had any desire to get out and ride, at least not beyond the commuting. The commuting has been good--cooler mornings so I don't arrive to work in need of another shower, light traffic since I leave early. So the cycling to work is going just peachy. Getting out for longer rides, though, has been non-existent. I've kind of decided to just let my blah's work themselves out. I hope they do soon.

Part of the lack of cycling desire stems from returning to work. At least that's what I'm going with. Going from having all the time in the world to get out and just go without other commitments to worry about to having to be somewhere to do something every single day is a shock to the emotional system. Going from being able to think about nothing, what I truly believe were moments of reaching the end of my brain as I'm rolling along (my hubby finds this incredibly funny, but I swear there were instances of experiencing nothingness) to having to think about grammar, sentence structure, paragraphing, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Poe, Jewett, Hemingway, Carver, my promotion portfolio, the conference session I'm to give in October, and so much other "stuff" is plain exhausting. I can't keep my eyes open past 8 in the evenings. When the alarm goes off at 5:30 am, I just want to roll over and hide from the world.

Where my days were filled with hours of solitude, just me, the bike, and the road, now my days are filled with busyness and noise. At this point, three weeks into the semester, I can tell I'm reaching the limits to what I can tolerate of the noisy busyness.

Thankfully the work week is over. With no meetings on the calendar for tomorrow, I don't have to be on campus. As I write this, that familiar urge to get out and ride for hours is struggling to push itself past the week's toxic build-up. Maybe after a good night's sleep, the urge will be stronger and give me the energy to get out. Just me, the bike, and the road.

Remembering

A flag for each who died on 9/11.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Listenin' to Larry

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Larry Gatlin. I grew up listening to the Gatlin Brothers, and when I found out Mr. Gatlin  was coming to our campus to conduct a creative writing workshop, I knew I had to go. Not only is Mr. Gatlin a hugely talented performer, but he is also funny, well-read, smart, and just plain down to earth.

Me n' Larry
Several of my students attended the workshop (yes, I bribed them to go; but on the way out, two of them said those who didn't take me up on my offer truly missed out on a good time) and left with huge smiles. One had the opportunity to read her poem aloud for Mr. Gatlin to listen to and respond, and he gave her praise and encouragement after she finished. When Mr. Gatlin told the group how important it is for a writer to read, read, and read some more, my students looked at me and grinned, as I have been saying the same thing since the semester began.

After the workshop, Mr. Gatlin spent about 45 minutes in the Cafe, singing, joking, telling stories, and answering questions from the crowd. He was scheduled to entertain for a half hour, but he insisted on continuing when the president of the college made the move to end the fun. His not being in a hurry to wrap things up was very refreshing.

Though I'm not a country music fan these days, I had to laugh when I was able to sing along with each of the songs Mr. Gatlin sang. Made my students laugh, too. I can't sing along with Lady Gaga, but I definitely can with Larry Gatlin.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

New PR

Rode the Bike Psychos Century today with the hopes of finishing sub 6 hours. I rolled into the parking lot after 5:55, average speed 17 mph. Given the beastly hills and the 10-15 mph winds, I was utterly and completely happy with my efforts. I now have a new marker to keep in mind when I ride my next century.

This ride came after a night of very restless sleep. I figured I was going to bonk at some point simply because I was running on so little quality sleep. To help prevent the bonk, I ate and drank often. This time around, I didn't pack the energy gels or bars. Instead, I ate the fruit, the pbj sandwiches, and the other goodies offered at the rest stops. I took the advice of Edmund Burke and Ed Pavelka, authors of The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling, and ate real food. I also made sure to drink, drink, drink. Not once did I feel low on energy, and I attribute my feeling good the whole 100 miles to taking these two guys' advice.

The route took us along the Illinois river, so the scenery at times was different than the usual corn fields, soy bean fields, and pastures I'm used to. The roads were shaded more often than not, keeping the air cool and in turn keeping me cool. Because we were following the river, this meant hills, very steep hills. When I saw the first climb, I was regretting my hills ride I did on Thursday. I thought maybe I was going to still feel the after effects of the hills from three days ago, and I did, but not to the extent that I couldn't get to the top in okay fashion. In fact, I kicked some major booty. Let's just say pace lines aren't all that helpful on really steep hills.

During the return portion, I kept eyeing my average speed. At the 72 mile marker, I saw my average speed dip to 16.9. I knew I was going to have to dig deep if I was going to keep the average speed from going down any further, but with the near headwind, I wasn't too sure I could keep this from happening. The rest stop was just a couple of miles in front of me. If I could make it there and fuel up, I might be able to find some reserve energy.

I ate some pasta, a banana, and some crackers at this stop, being sure to down a bottle of water, too. The next eleven miles would tell the tale, and what it told was I maintained the 16.9. I credit being able to keep the speed level to getting on the downs. I usually ride on the hoods, but again, Burke and Pavelka suggest riding on the downs when dealing with a headwind. I figured I had nothing to lose. At this point, my speed was 16.5. As soon as I dropped to the downs, my speed went up to 18.5, sometimes 19. I was stunned. Talk about a total game changer. Feeling pretty happy about things, I made it to the last rest station, ready to fuel up one last time.

As I was walking up to the tables laden with oranges, bananas, crackers, grapes, watermelon, and pbj sandwiches, Hubby called. He had made it through the 50 mile route and was waiting for me at the starting point. This is the longest ride he's completed this season, and he did a great job of going at his own pace, taking breaks when he needed to, and just making the ride his own. He told me the rest of the way in was flat and mostly with the wind. Hallelujah! I believed I could actually get the average speed back up to 17 mph. And I did. At the 100 mile marker, I wanted to throw my arms into the air like the pros do when they cross the finish line, but I'm not a no-hands kind of rider. I most likely would have gone down.

The coolest thing about the ride happened when I went to get my ice cream sandwich from the Schwan's people. A young man getting his own ice cream looked at me and said, "You did an awesome job. Every time we were at a rest stop, you rolled in, and I was just amazed. You rode this whole thing alone. I couldn't do that. Just awesome." I thanked him, telling him I ride alone all the time. He again commented on how great I did. As I was walking away, glowing in his praise, I thought about how I wouldn't know how to ride a pace line, but believe me, there were moments today with the wind that I wish I did.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ride Finds

Went out for a shorter ride today to shake out the legs and to just enjoy the time available. Some fatigue from yesterday's hilly ride, but in general, I felt pretty good. Just ambling along made the ride all the more enjoyable, though all the rides I take are truly enjoyable. Even the hilly ones.

Sometimes when I'm out, I find treasures. Not too long ago, I found a droid cell phone on the shoulder of the road. I slipped it into my jersey pocket, and when I got home I pulled it out to show Hubby. He took it, pushed the on button, and within minutes he had the owner's husband on the line. Seems the phone's owner had laid the phone on the bumper of the truck she was using to haul wood and forgotten to remove it before driving the truck. About an hour after talking to the husband, the wife showed up at our door, ready to pay us for finding her phone and calling to return it. We declined the money, saying we were just happy to help.

Today, I was rolling along, not really thinking about anything in particular when I saw a tripod on the shoulder. The legs were fully extended, so it was an easy item to see. I stopped to check it out. Though it's not an expensive model, the tripod is in good shape, appearing nearly new. I considered just setting it up a little further off the shoulder, thinking the owner may retrace his/her steps to see if he/she could find the tripod, but then I thought what if someone besides the owner sees it and takes it. I really didn't know what to do. I left it next to a gate close to where I found it, hoping it would be gone when I rode back by. It wasn't. I decided to slip it down into my one open water bottle holder and bring it on home. I still may take it back out to the location and set it up just off the shoulder.

Other things I've seen but not picked up are needle-nosed pliers, a small bungee cord, a large bungee cord, a stainless steel fork, and a package of red plastic cups. I've seen an assortment of other things over the months, but I don't have a real good way of carrying things unless they can slip into one of my jersey pockets. I had the thought that I might start picking up the smaller things and using them to create a found-item piece of art. That could be a lot of fun.

Maybe tomorrow during the century ride I'll be able to find a few items to stash in my jersey pockets. These could get me started on the art project. If I don't find anything, that'll be okay, too. Less I have to carry around all day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Long Ride Friday

It's Friday, Friday! Which meant I was able to get a longer ride in. Starting Wednesday, I thought often about rolling out right after my youngest set off for school, and that's exactly what I did. I didn't have a route planned out like I usually do. I just went, and when I reached the point of having to make a decision on which direction to go, I followed whatever popped into my head. What popped at Spin Lake was "hey, take the route you rode for the Miles of Smiles century backwards." So I did. And when I reached Congerville, what popped was "hey, you can ride the part you missed during MOS." So I did. Very quickly I found out what I missed: hills, hills, and more hills. A couple were 10% grades, a couple were 7% grades, and one was even an 11% grade. Towards the end of the ride, I was hearing a noise on and off, coming from the crank. The hills put a lot of pressure on the crank today, so I won't be surprised if some maintenance is needed. 60 miles later (actually around 64 miles--I forgot to start the Garmin after stopping to remove a rather big bug that had flown into one of the open parts of my helmet and was clawing at my scalp), I rolled into the driveway, ravenous, tired, hot, and sweaty. All this adds up to being fully satisfied. Yeah, it's Friday, Friday.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Swinging at the Curve Balls

See what happens when life throws curve balls at you? Well, they may not have been all that curvy, but they were enough the last couple of weeks to keep me from blogging. I've thought about blogging. I even opened up a new post at one point. I just couldn't bring myself to sit down and actually write. I guess that would be a strike. The same kind of thing was happening with my writing. I thought about story ideas. I opened up a story on several occasions with the intention of working on it. Three minutes later, after staring at the words on the page, I'd close the document. Strike two. Thankfully, now that the semester has begun, things are starting to fall into place and I don't feel nearly as discombobulated as I had been. I'll give myself a ball there. So the count stands at 2-1.

If the first week is any indication, my classes are going to be fun. I have some sharp students. Each class has its own personality, which changes things up nicely. If they were all the same, I'd be bored silly. The most amazing thing that's happened so far is all the students in one of my Comp I classes have shown up both times we've met. This has never been the case in all the years of my teaching. I truly, truly hope this continues all semester long. Ball two.

Because of the new school year beginning, the cycling is not happening. The time to just clip in and pedal for hours is no longer available. Now I'm having to fit an hour in here, an hour there. This along with my six mile commute helps alleviate the yearning to get out and go, but I still find myself longing for the days of three, four, sometimes five hours in the saddle. On the way to school yesterday, I thought I should just up and quit my job, pack my panniers, and head out West. I entertained the daydream all the way to campus, where I was smacked back to the reality of my life: kids, husband, dog. I truly do need this job. I can, however, dream about next summer and the possibilities for cycling adventures. Ball three. Full count.

On the upside, I have a century ride Sunday. I'm going to give the 124 mile option a shot. Just thinking about it now puts a smile on my face and makes the frustration of the last few weeks fade even more. Base hit.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer's End

Last Friday we did our usual first weekend of August trip to Door County, Wisconsin. I loaded up Sweetness, excited to be able to see the beautiful countryside of Door County from a bicycle this year. Friday evening I only had time for a short ride, so I did a HIIT workout on the road that follows the Bay coastline. I managed to cycle 12 miles in 38 minutes, the fastest I've ever done 12 miles before, going 19.l mph. I was quite happy with that. Saturday morning, I tip-toed out the hotel door at 7 am and spent two hours exploring the back roads. At one point, I came around a bend and over a gentle rise to find cows being herded across the road. The man herding them called to me to stop as the cows didn't know what I was and might want to investigate. Not wanting to be attacked by a herd of huge black and white bovine, I stood as still as I could until the herding was finished. Though I only got in the two rides during the three-day stay, they were very good rides.

Yesterday I took Sweetness to the shop for maintenance. The chain began slipping about a week ago and slipped quite a bit on Saturday's ride. So, with the road bike out of commission, I decided it was the perfect time to put fenders on my commuter and get ready for my return to work next week. The plan is to ride everyday, even in wet weather, and to avoid the dirt line up the backside, fenders are a necessity. Putting the fenders on, however, didn't happen without frustration. I read the directions several times, but they were mostly useless. I truly believe they were written by bicycle mechanics to keep the average Jane from working on her own bike. Finally, with Hubby's help, I figured out how the fenders were to be installed. I'm even more determined now to learn how to maintenance my own bikes.

If you haven't picked up the latest Bicycle Times magazine, you should. The current issue is full of really good articles. One in particular is about wearing or not wearing a helmet. I'm torn on this. While I truly believe a helmet can protect a cyclist, I'm not convinced a cyclist riding around town, on paths, at a slow speed, really needs a helmet. I'll definitely keep thinking about this, do some more research, but I do have to agree with the author's suggestion that those who push the helmet issue create an atmosphere of fear where there shouldn't be any.

Only a few more days of summer break remain before I have to report back to work. I do love my job, but I also love having time to cycle and just goofing off with the family. The last two weeks have been full of goofing off--lots of episodes of "Bones" via Netflix (we only have one episode left to watch!), a movie at the theater (the boy wizard movie), Door County, lively conversations at meals, and more euchre. The boys are full tilt into football practices, and my lovely daughter is gearing up to return to China to study the language for the entire school year. While the summer is coming to a close, I'm excited to see what the new school year brings for all of us.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August Already?

My epic walk on Monday left me with a blister on each of my feet, both exactly in the same place near the heel. These aren't just run of the mill blisters; they're ginormous. The one on my right foot is the bigger of the two, and yesterday evening I was in some major pain. I've had blisters before, and none of them ever hurt like the one I have now. The slightest pressure on the skin near the blister was painful as well. I was fearing it was becoming infected. As soon as I got home (we were at football practice with my youngest), I dabbed triple antibiotic ointment on it and took a couple of pain relievers. An hour later, the pain was nearly gone. Today, the pain is there, but it's much less than what I was dealing with last evening. I've not had to take any pain relievers today, so hopefully whatever it was is on the mend.

With it now being August--can you believe it?--the last couple of days I've been mulling over my goals for the summer. At this point, I've nearly completed one of the two goals. The second still has quite a bit required to call it finished. I can't truly say I did what I set out to do over the summer, but the first goal, a collection of short stories, is in good shape. I could call it finished, but I see areas I want to work on, and I have two more ideas taking shape, adding two more stories to the collection. I finished one of the stories while I was staying with my mom, and at this point, the latest story is my favorite of them all. Like the other stories in the collection, the ending leaves it open for the reader to determine what happens, and when Hubby read it after I returned home, he flat out didn't like the ending. I think it bothers his sensibilities. And that's what I want--I want the reader to be bothered.

My second goal is still very much in its infancy, so I'm just going to keep plugging away at it. The moment it's finished, I'll share.

In between all the cycling, work, and family time, I guess I did okay with my goals. I know I let my garden go unattended. It looks withered and completely neglected. I harvested exactly one green pepper, a handful of pole beans, two servings of snap peas, three cucumbers, and several onions. The herbs are doing fine, but the zucchini, the watermelon, and both the bush and pole beans have not done well at all. On top of these veggies dying on the vine (literally, even though I watered and weeded), the tomatoes have brown calluses on them--every single one of them. My lovely daughter commented just the other day about how last year my garden was gorgeous and this year not so much. I agree. I tended it through June then let it go. Next summer the garden will receive much more attention.

Like so many seasons, I've been caught by surprise at how quickly these last two months have gone by, but I can look back and smile over how my days were spent. I've definitely had a lot of fun this summer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Scratching the Walk Itch

With it being the first of August, and since I rode over 140 miles Saturday and Sunday, I decided to welcome the new month with a walk. The last time I had my tennis shoes on was sometime back in May, I think, so lacing them up felt a bit strange. My feet were wondering what the heck as I have been barefoot or wearing flip-flops since spring. I gathered up my Garmin and cell phone, and set off to see just how far the local trail extended to the east.

About a half mile into the walk, I looked at the Garmin. It showed my speed, but nothing else was registering. After a couple of steps I realized I'd not pushed the start button. You'd think that three weeks into using the darn thing I'd remember to do this when I begin a ride or a walk. Hopefully, I'll not forget the next time I go out, but knowing me, I probably will.

I started out later this morning than I usually like to. To be honest, I hadn't decided to walk until after getting up, and I didn't get up until much later than I usually do. Today was supposed to be a rest day or a low-key workout day, but the bug to walk bit me. I had to scratch the itch the bite caused. I figured since I didn't have anything else on the calendar for today, I could find out just how far it was to walk from my house to the end of the trail heading east. I found out it's around 5.8 miles. By the time I was done, the Garmin read 11.05 miles, and adding in the part I missed because of not pushing the start button gives me right around 11.60 miles. Not a bad day's walk.

The trail I took also goes north, south, and west, so I have four more walks to take to see how far each direction will take me. I think these walks will be perfect for the days marked as rest days after long-ride days.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Going Off Course

I did it again. I missed a turn during a century ride and went totally off course. Thankfully, because I know the area so well, I was able to make my own route back to the starting point. Unfortunately, I ended at 95+ miles, missing the 100 mile goal. As penance, I rode home from the starting/finishing point to get to the 100 miles. In the end, I went 103 miles.

Most of this course I've ridden at one time or another. There was only one section I've never experienced. This section was hilly but manageable. And this section led into another that I've ridden before that I knew was very, very hilly. All last evening, I thought about one hill in particular and decided if I had to get off and walk, so be it. Century riding for me isn't a race. It's an opportunity for me to get out and ride a longer course than I usually do, enjoying the scenery along the way. The century route today was beautiful, and when I reached the section I knew was extremely hilly, I looked to my right and saw a fawn standing by the road. Doesn't get much better than that. As I came around the curve that led into the feared hill, I shifted into the granny gear and started the climb. Midway up, I glanced down at my speed: 4 mph. I told myself I can do this, and when I reached the top, I whooped a "hell yeah!" What I didn't know at that point was another more demonic hill was awaiting me a couple miles down the road. At the bottom of this hill was a smiley face and "going up" painted on the road. Halfway up, I looked down to see "don't suck" and a frown face. Not about to let this hill get me after conquering of the previous hill, I dug deep and continued on. Just about to the top, I looked down to see "hurting yet?" Yes, my thighs were screaming, but I had to make it to the top. And I did. I didn't have the breath to whoop another "hell yeah" at this point. I needed all the air I could get to keep going forward.

From there the landscape smoothed out, with just some rolling hills here and there. I stopped in at the gas station rest stop, downed some food and drink, then continued on. This is where I missed my turn. After reviewing the route, I figured out why I missed it. I was supposed to turn left right after leaving the gas station. This was when a truck pulling a trailer laden with furniture and appliances was coming up behind me and going around. Another truck was behind this one. I never saw the arrow as the trucks covered it as they passed by me. About two miles beyond, I knew I was most likely off course, but I didn't want to turn around. I decided to make my own route back.

The rest of the ride went by smoothly, and I was alone, just the way I like to cycle. Today, when I pulled into the driveway after serving my penance of riding home since I missed my turn, my kids and Hubby came out onto the deck, clapping and yelling congratulations to me for finishing 100 miles. My youngest came up to me and kissed my cheek. My gentle giant of a 14 year old gave me a big hug, laughing at how sweaty I was. And my lovely daughter smiled, saying, "Good job, Momma." I knew at that point that I was back on course.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Week With Mom

My lovely daughter and I spent the last five days as caretakers for my mom who is living with MS. My dad is her primary caretaker and has been for the last ten years. When my mom was diagnosed with MS in 1997, the doc told her she'd have at least ten years of being able to walk. In reality, she had about five years. She started using a wheelchair in 2002. At that time, she could still lift herself up, stand for a minute or two, and generally do things for herself with just a bit of assistance. By 2006, she couldn't stand for more than a couple of seconds, and because of inactivity, her strength began to lessen, making her unable to lift herself. At that time, my dad took over lifting her and doing so many things for her that she used to be able to do herself. He lifts her from the couch to her wheelchair, from her wheelchair to the commode, and then in reverse, many times a day. He's never complained. He's never expressed a desire to leave. He's never brought up the suggestion of putting my mom, his wife of 54 years, in a nursing home. He just very lovingly takes care of her.

But he needs a break every now and then, way more often than what he gets. Being a caretaker is tough, and after a while, all of the pressure of being the person who has to do everything starts to chip away at the caretaker's emotional well-being. The last three summers, I've gone over to stay with Mom while Dad gets away. He's gone fishing in Canada, taken a trip to Yellowstone, and this time went to Michigan to fish for a couple of days followed by a trip to Ohio to visit family and friends. The first summer I stayed alone and we managed okay. While I'm in pretty good shape, lifting an individual who has no leg strength and cannot hold herself up in any way can be difficult. I was glad to be able to help, though, and seeing my dad return re-energized made it all worth it.

Last summer, when I was asked to stay a week with Mom, I hesitated. I knew my mom's health had declined further and she needed even more help. I also knew she'd gained some weight, which would make lifting her a bit more difficult. My dad needed a break, though. After a lot of thought, I asked my lovely daughter if she would assist me, which meant giving up a week of her summer to do all the duties a CNA does, including bathing her grandma. Without blinking an eye, she said absolutely. While my mom was somewhat embarrassed to have her granddaughter see her naked, see her at her most vulnerable, she quickly found out her granddaughter wasn't the least bit put off. With my daughter's help, the lifting, the changing of clothes, and the overall care of my mom was so much easier. My daughter showed nothing but love, compassion, and care the entire time. I was truly moved by what I experienced that week, watching my daughter partake in the care of her grandmother.

Last week, we returned and spent five days with my mom while my dad took a much-needed break. The day after we arrived, a couple of my daughter's friends showed up, along with my two boys. Their chattering and laughter filled the house, and from where I was sitting in the living room, I could see my mom enjoying the young people and their antics. My daughter's friends talked to my mom, filling her in on their lives and the things they were doing over the summer. They also spurred us to dig out the cards and play euchre. We spent many hours at the kitchen table playing bid euchre, imparting to my son and daughter all the secrets to the game. My son is now hooked. 

My dad returned home yesterday, somewhat refreshed, but I thought I could also see some remnants of fatigue remaining from so many days and nights of caring for Mom. I want to help more, but I don't know how. For now, I just have to hope that Dad enjoyed his time away, that Mom enjoyed her time with her grandchildren, and that we'll be able to return next summer for another week.