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!

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 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


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.