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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Garden Art

I'm already beginning to think about summer 2013 and what I want to do with my garden. Because I was gone all last summer, and because of the heat wave across the Midwest, the flower seeds I scattered a few days before leaving for BTUSFMS didn't produce much. I came home to a couple of zinnias and a couple of Black Eyed Susans. So, my plan is to make this summer the Summer of My Most Magnificent and Awesome Garden. For the SOMMMAAG to happen, I have to start preparing now. The first piece of garden art took shape today: turning a throwaway bicycle wheel into a flower. I'm going to hang this on my garden fence.

My Red Cabinet

After putting the fabric panels in and looking at the cabinet for three days, I decided I liked the cabinet better with just the dark interior. And after sewing a panel, putting it on spring rods, and covering the space on the lower part, I took it off to leave that space open. Sometimes I shake my head over the hours invested in a project and that investment not being followed through on, but in the end, what do those hours really matter? They were my hours to give. 

Now we have a nice piece added to our kitchen/dining space. It offers a coziness that was missing, and it also gave me a space to display Lovely Beautiful Daughter's soup bowls made for Empty Bowls. Other pieces in the cabinet came from our travels: to China, to Costa Rica, and to Florida. It's a cabinet full of memories.

While I was working on it, another memory was created, one we will laugh over for many, many years. Christmas day, I was putting on the final coating of wax then sanding to get the smooth, aged texture that shows up much better than what can be seen in the photo. At one point, I did a sniff, sniff, smelling what seemed to me to be a strong, natural gas odor. Angel Baby was in the living room, watching TV, and he had the gas fireplace going. I thought maybe I was just smelling it, though we'd been using the fireplace for weeks and had never smelled anything like this the whole time. A few minutes later, the odor was even stronger. I turned off the fireplace, and the smell began to dissipate. I continued on with my waxing and sanding. Several hours later, Hubby came in and started a burner on the gas stove to cook dinner. The strong, natural gas odor wafted through the kitchen/dining area again. Concerned, Hubby called the gas company. They advised us to get out of the house, so the boys, the dog, and I went to the garage (detached and separated from the house by a side yard). Gas Company Guy showed up quickly and walked through the house with Hubby. They checked the furnace, the fireplaces, and the stove. Nothing was registering as being abnormal on Gas Company Guy's gas meters. In fact, he was quite impressed with how little carbon monoxide was coming from the fireplace flame. Then he looked around and asked, "Is someone doing crafts?" Hubby showed him my paint and waxes being used on the cabinet. "It's the wax," Gas Company Guy said. He went on to explain how the wax has a petroleum base, and the fumes from it were mixing with the heat from the fireplace. The warmer the fumes got, the more a vapor was being created. That's what we were smelling. "It's harmless," he assured Hubby. When Hubby came to rescue us from the garage, he got quite the laugh over me and my "crafts" causing such a stir on Christmas day.

Friday, December 21, 2012

And Just Like That A Year Has Passed

 
I can't believe a year has slipped by since Mom left this world. When I woke up at 5:21, one of my first thoughts was how a year ago today, at 4:07 am, my cell phone rang. I knew it was my sister. I knew she was going to tell me Mom had passed away. The days that have made up the year since that early morning call have all contained one constant: loss. In the wake of my loss, my family's loss, one positive happened: a sense of purpose. What started with a bike ride across the US to raise funds for MS research has turned into a desire to continue raising awareness of what MS is and to advocate for those living with MS. How this happens is yet undetermined. I'm hoping during 2013, the answer to the question of how? comes to light.

I'm not sure what my next move will be. While I dream of having the women's specific bike shop, I haven't proceeded with the business plan because Negative Voice in my head keeps insisting I'll never get financial assistance. Logical Voice says, "Jenn, you don't know this for sure, and you won't ever know until you have a plan in place and present it to someone who can give you either a definite yes or a definite no." My mom always used to tell me, "You won't know until you actually try," and I even use the You Have to Actually Try card on my own kids these days, so if I don't play this card myself, that makes me a hypocrite, right? When I sit back and think about the bike shop, I'm the only one who doesn't believe it can become a reality. All of my friends do. One even gave me a great idea to make a part of the shop. Another told me she couldn't wait to bring her daughter in to buy a new bike. So why am I hesitating?

Because of the hesitation, I have been putting Plan B into place. This plan is taking shape and includes everything I'd like to do regarding cycling except the MS advocacy. Ohhhhh, wait a second! I take that back! The MS advocacy is actually a part of Plan B as I signed up to do a segment of Bike the US for MS Northern Tier. Come mid June 2013, I will be riding the Indiana/Illinois portion of the tour--six days of cycling and camping right in my back yard--so I will be raising funds for the ride and spreading the word just like I want to continue doing. Perhaps Plan B is the way I'm supposed to go.

The direction my life is going is because of my mom. Though she is no longer with me in the physical form, she is definitely with me in the spiritual: still nudging me, still encouraging me, and still whispering, "You won't know until you actually try."

Monday, December 17, 2012

So Many Fabrics to Choose From!

I decided to use fabric to cover the back of the cabinet, behind the shelves, so I took some time today to browse the rows of fabrics at the local hobby store. Tons of choices! Too many, really. I picked out three and asked for 1/8th of a yard of each just to tack them against the back and see how they look. Of the three, the black with bright flowers is the one I like most, with the white/flowers coming in a close second. I don't like the white/Paris motif at all, so that one's out of the running. I'm actually considering returning to the store tomorrow to purchase three more swatches; I saw several other patterns I really like, and I don't want to settle just yet.

Another idea I had was to wait until I paint the entire cabinet to see what happens with the color. Lovely Beautiful Daughter and I are going to take a short road trip tomorrow to see about paint. The only place that carries it, a small second-hand store, is about 20 miles west. I'm going to talk with the owner to get her input on painting and how best to go about making the china cabinet look as awesome as possible. According to the paint manufacturer's website, no sanding is needed before using this paint. I'm hoping this is true. Not having to sand such a large piece would definitely make a difference in how long it will take to rehab it.

Thinking about what to do with this cabinet helped me get through my root canal this morning. I cycled to the dentist, enjoying the brisk air, and was ushered right in upon arrival. While Doc did his work, I thought about what color would work best in our kitchen/dining area. I also thought about how I finally have a place to put my turn-table and albums, and I can listen to my vinyls every single day. All because someone decided to throw this wonderful piece of furniture on the curb, and I happened to see it because I was cycling by. The root canal was over before I knew it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Curbside Freebie



Found another treasure while cycling today. Thankfully Lovely Beautiful Daughter and Funny Delightful Son were both home to accompany me back to the treasure (a mere two blocks away), load it up (it's heavier than I thought it was going to be), and bring it home (can't wait to see Hubby's face when he sees it in the garage). Already have some ideas for giving it new life. Should be a fun project.


Monday, December 10, 2012

What I Learned Today

During the ride for BTUSFMS, we stopped in Charlottesville, VA for an appearance at the James Q. Miller Multiple Sclerosis Clinic. While there, several individuals living with MS spoke, and several of the cyclists were interviewed about taking part in BTUSFMS. I was approached about being interviewed, but I declined. At that time, I couldn't maintain my composure when talking about why I was cycling. Mom's death still hurt, and thinking about how she suffered the last few weeks of her life brought on the tears.

Today I presented my experience with BTUSFMS to a fairly large group. When I began, I explained why I decided to do the ride--for my mom--and I felt so strong, so confident when I explained how she had been diagnosed with MS, how she eventually lost her mobility, and how MS has no cure. While a twinge of sadness grabbed my heart when I thought about how she lost the battle to MS, I was able to continue on, showing the group what an amazing summer I had cycling across the US.At the end, I fielded questions. In the process, I learned how one gentleman used to live in Pittsburg, KS, and how another gentleman knew exactly what I meant when I said Telluride, CO was a sparkling gem nestled between the mountains. I walked away from this morning's presentation knowing I had connected with many in the room.

I am and always will be grateful to BTUSFMS for what it is doing. Not only is it raising much needed funds for MS research, but it is giving people like me an opportunity to find the strength within to face life head on. Because of the ride, I'm more confident. Because of the ride, I'm not afraid of the unknown. Because of the ride, I know I am capable of achieving whatever I set out to do. Most of all, I can think about and talk about Mom without succumbing to the tears. Her story helps others, which is what's most important, and I hope I can keep telling it for a long time to come.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Memories

This is for a presentation I'm giving in a couple of days. Still have some work to do, but it's coming along. Going back through all the photos and remembering the days of the ride create a mixture of emotions, mostly happiness. Now that the semester is nearly complete, and if the weather holds out during break, I'm looking forward to getting some longer rides in.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My First Interview

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in an interview about my writing, and during the conversation, I realized I really love talking about the pieces I'm working on. If you'd like to hear that interview, you can do so by clicking here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Another Recycling Project

I went to the crafts store today with the intention of buying a bracelet holder to display my bracelets. The holder wasn't expensive, only $7.99, but when I looked at it, a eureka moment occurred. I had just put a paper towel tube in the recycling bin, and a heavier cardboard tube from plastic wrap. Why not make my own holder from freebies? So instead of buying the holder, I put the money into some beads to use for some necklaces I have in mind to make, beads I wouldn't have bought this time around if I'd bought the holder.

Initially I'd intended to use one of the many event t-shirts I've collected over the last three years as the fabric to cover the cardboard tubes, but when I began rifling through my closet, I remembered a velvet jacket I had that I've not worn in several years. The last time I wore it, I was walking across campus when it began to rain. The jacket still shows all the little spots where the rain hit it. I loved that jacket, hence not being able to part with it in more than two years, but now part of it has taken on new life. I know I'll make another bracelet holder, so another section of the jacket will be used for it. Somewhere along the way, the buttons will be put to use, too.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Reworking a Curbside Christmas Tree







Someone dumped this poor thing on the curb. So I brought it home.




Hubby gave me the big snippers to cut the branches off. Those snippers are AWESOME!




See??? Just like that, the metal snaps. Love those snippers.








The pile of lights I cut from the branches. I was so hoping the lights actually worked. They didn't. Maybe that's why poor little tree ended up on the curb.




The branches now adorn the window boxes. I think the little tree looks very happy!

 

And they also adorn the front porch as the wreath I made using an extra bicycle wheel, also a freebie from the local bike shop. Best wreath I've ever had.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Baby Steps to Living More Simply

Over the past few years I've been slowly redesigning the way I move through life. The first change I made was to get more exercise. Agreeing to do a sprint tri with a friend springboarded me into action. Since then I have completed several sprint tri's, several century rides, a cross country cycling tour, and lots of shorter mileage rides. I feel more fit now than I ever was in my teens and twenties. The second change I made was to bring home less work. Rethinking how I respond to student papers and implementing a new procedure involving more one-on-one time with each student made less take-home work a reality. As such, my evenings are now spent with my family, doing activities we all enjoy. The third change I made was to drive less and use my bike more for transportation. The first year didn't go so well. As soon as the temps dropped below 45 the bike went up on the hooks in the garage. I kept at it, though, and now I'm completely comfortable using my bike to go wherever I need to in whatever weather the day offers up. The change I am working on now is sustainability: reducing, reusing, recycling.

The whole idea of sustainability has been nagging at me for awhile. For years I agonized over the amount of trash we were putting on the curb every week. I kept thinking if every family of five was generating as much landfill garbage as we were, the earth was in a world of hurt. There had to be a better way to deal with items we were throwing away. My first step to reducing how much we were contributing to the landfill was to set up a compost box to throw all meal scraps into. I wanted to garden, so what better way to build up an organic foundation than to create my very own dirt? I then bought containers into which we put our cans, glass, cardboard, and paper products instead of throwing them in the trash. Simply doing the composting and recycling cut back on our curbside trash by more than 50%. Seeing this made me start reconsidering other aspects of my life.

Like clothes.

For many years, I operated on the idea that new was better. Even very recently--I began searching for a stylish raincoat I could wear for my cycling commute. I had settled on buying a very expensive ($399 expensive!) coat made in Great Britain. I was on the web page, ready to choose the purple coat, when thankfully the sane part of my brain shouted, "Back away from the computer! Don't you dare buy that coat!" I didn't buy that coat. Instead, I made a promise to myself that I would keep looking until I found one right here where I live, at one of the thrift stores, giving it new life. Staying local. Living sustainably. Looking back at all the new items I just had to have, I realize how silly this mentality was. New isn't necessarily better. It is, however, more expensive. And wasteful. When I think about all the money I could have saved by shopping at thrift stores . . .. (Insert eye roll here.) So now I'm on a mission to see what treasures I can find on the cheap. Within the last week alone, I found a $14 red wool coat that I have learned will keep me warm even when the temps are in the mid teens, and a $5 pair of casual black leather shoes in excellent condition (Franco Sarto--originally $70). Spending less than $20 for two great items makes me feel giddy, something paying full price for new products never did (well, except for when I bought Sweetness--she was totally worth every penny I paid).

Living more simply hasn't been easy. In many ways, I just wasn't ready to make the changes though I knew the changes would positively impact my life. Not allowing naysayers to sway me was also a challenge along the way. Still is. But I like where I am, doing my small part.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reveling in the Aftermath

Three days after completing the Gravel Grovel, I'm still mulling over the ride and how it affected me. Riding 62 miles of paved rural roads is all well and good; riding 62 miles of rural gravel roads with steep inclines along with some treacherous mountain biking terrain thrown in is a totally different experience. The roads I normally ride are mostly flat with some small hills here and there. I have cell phone service no matter which direction I might decide to go. During Saturday's ride, in addition to cycling on gravel for upwards of 90% of the ride, I also had no cell phone service whatsoever. I was totally cut off from being able to call for help if it was needed. At one point, right around mile 53, I was exhausted, trying to climb yet another hill, up out of the saddle, my rear tire spinning to the point I knew I was going to go down if I didn't sit, putting weight back on the tire to keep it firmly attached to the ground. My stomach lurched with the effort I was expending, and for a split second, all I wanted to do was break down and cry. The Gravel Grovel was doing a number on my head and my body.

I took a deep breath to calm myself and thought back on my first century ride. I'd felt the same way at the end, when I'd battled through the last 13 miles, 9 of which was in a headwind. Alone and tired, I really, really wanted to stop, but a small voice deep inside my head said, "You're almost there. Don't stop now." I finished that ride, and when I arrived back at the truck, I turned away from Hubby to keep him from seeing me nearly break down in tears from all the overwhelming emotions gripping me. The century I completed after that first one went better, with me never feeling along the way that I wanted to stop. My third century I was even stronger. Those rides, along with my summer ride across the US, have instilled in me a confidence that rises up when I most need it. That small voice I'd heard during my first century wasn't so small on Saturday. When all I wanted to do was give in, that voice, loud and clear, said, "The last six miles are all downhill. Just three more miles. Just three more miles." I leaned down over the handlebars and kept on going. At the six miles to go mark, I saw Hubby standing near the road, snapping pictures as I approached. I knew then I had the ride all but wrapped up.

Since finishing Saturday's ride, my shoulders have been achy, my hips fatigued. The Gravel Grovel may have left its mark on me, but I won the battle. Now I look forward to the next one.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sore And Tired But Definitely Not Disappointed

2012 Gravel Grovel
In September, I signed up to ride the Gravel Grovel, a cyclocross event held in the Hoosier National Forest just south of Bloomington, IN. At the time, I had just bought my mountain bike and was looking for an endurance ride to test myself. When a cycling friend sent me the link for the Gravel Grovel, I didn't even think twice about paying the $45 fee. During the 8 weeks between signing up and actually going to Indiana, I prepared somewhat for what I knew was going to be a very difficult ride, but with work and family, the training was sporadic at best. The two weeks leading up to the day Hubby and I were scheduled to drive over, I toyed with the idea of not going. Every excuse I could dredge up I listed on a piece of paper: cost in gas, hotel, and food; not in shape; Thanksgiving weekend was meant for being lazy; and the weather was too cold. Then I reminded myself that I would be far more disappointed by what I didn't do rather than what I did do.

So Hubby and I set off for Indiana late Friday afternoon. Between home and Champaign, Hubby looked at me and asked, "Do you know where we're going?" I responded with a nope and a shrug of my shoulders. "We're on an adventure," I said. "We'll figure it out as we go." And we did. We stopped at an Indiana rest area where we found a map. A real, in color, paper map. We studied it and figured out a route to our destination then set off. A few hours later, after winding through some dark countryside that scared Hubby (he's such a city boy), we arrived in Bedford where we spent the night.

Getting ready to start off.
Saturday morning brought sunshine, calm winds, and a chilly 27 degrees. I was prepared, though, having just bought a new cold-weather jacket, gloves, and balaclava. With my new duds on my upper half, along with my thermal leggings, wool socks, and booties on my lower half, I lined up with the others to begin the ride, hoping I would stay warm during the next few hours. If there's one thing that makes me miserable when riding, it's being cold. I knew if I was cold, the 62 miles was going to be extremely long and unpleasant. I found out just a few miles into the ride that my new clothes would keep me toasty warm, just how I like it.

The creek finish line!
My main goal for the day was to simply finish. I'd spent some time examining past accounts of the ride and went into it knowing it was going to be really, really tough. My hope was that I could make it through the ride without a flat tire (accomplished!), with an average speed of 12 mph (didn't accomplish :( ), and without going down on gravel (accomplished--though I did go down on the mountain bike trail). In the end, I finished 15 minutes past my hoped-for cut off of 5 hours, but still toasty warm and with a huge smile on my face. Me and The Bette made it through in one piece.

'

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Extent of My Black Friday Shopping

Thrift store find.

A beautiful vintage wool coat with an ILGWU tag sewed into the lining.

$14.00.

Cha-ching!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

It's official. I ate way too much today. All day. Started around 8 this morning and finally took my last bite at 8 this evening. First morsel in was the delicious almond flour with coconut drizzle cinnamon rolls. Last morsel in was the homemade pecan pie baked by Lovely Beautiful Daughter. Now I'm thinking, "What in the world was I thinking?" I've not eaten this much food in one day in . . . probably . . . ever! Tomorrow, I'll get back to eating the way I know I should eat: a lot less and way more thoughtful about what is consumed.

This being the first Thanksgiving without Mom, I was kind of dreading the day. So many of my Thanksgiving memories include her. She would always be up and in the kitchen early, way before the rest of us pulled ourselves out of our warm beds, fixing breakfast for us while at the same time prepping the turkey and preparing the stuffing. Along with the mashed potatoes and gravy, Mom always fixed a cranberry dish for Dad. He was the only one who ate them, but Mom made sure to have a bowl of the deep red berries next to his plate when we all sat down to eat. Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and mincemeat pie topped off the meal.

What made today not as dreadful as I was thinking it might be was Lovely Beautiful Daughter. She and several of her friends gathered in the kitchen and prepared the meal. And though she totally forgot to put the turkey in the oven, thus delaying our dinner by nearly two hours, having the young people in the house--working together, laughing, playing games while the turkey cooked--gave me much joy. When we finally did sit down to dinner, each of us taking a turn offering what we are thankful for, I felt truly blessed to be surrounded by such a variety of individuals.

Though it's official I ate way to much today, it's also official that today was a good, good day.


My Helmet Rant


The Boston helmet campaign really pushed my buttons. To suggest a cyclist will eventually fall victim to a crash of some sort, and thus should always wear a helmet just in case, simply advances the same, old tiring argument: cycling is a dangerous activity.

To the contrary:
  • Cycling is a very safe activity.
  • Cycling is a very enjoyable activity.
To suggest otherwise misdirects the conversation. Come on, Boston.

Sheesh.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And the Cycling Bliss Continues to Grow

Recently, because of my hyper-enthusiasm over cycling--for commuting, for fitness, for bliss--I was searching for other cycling blogs written by women. When I typed in "cycling blogs by women," one of the first hits on the results list was "Women's Bike Blogs: The List." Doing the ol' purse the lips in the "yeah, there's probably two, maybe three blogs listed," I clicked on the link. What I thought next was straight out of A Christmas Story--"and the lamp (in my case, list) blazed forth in unparalled glory." The next thought was, "Great. Now I'm going to fritter away time going through this list and reading all these blogs." I consoled myself by justifying that reading all the blogs was a good, healthy activity, almost akin to being on the bike itself. So I started reading.

"The List" was compiled by Barb Chamberlain, author of Bike Style: The Quest for the Intersection of Style and Comfort, and I for one am incredibly grateful to her for doing so. I have enjoyed reading some of the blogs and look forward to continuing down the list. I feel connected to so many other women who love cycling as much as I do, and hopefully through these blogs, I can create actual connections, enlarging my circle of friends who just happen to be women who cycle.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Pledge

I signed the pledge on Friday, and already I think I have two women ready to commit to riding a bike more often. Both have bikes, but those bikes have gathered dust in the garage for a variety of reasons. Because both are moms, busy moms at that, the idea of using a bike for transportation doesn't make sense to them when they have appointments to get to, grocery shopping to do, kids to pick up from school, kids to ferry to sports practices/events, and a myriad of other "stuff." I totally get their perspective because I was there for a long time myself. When thinking about all the things a woman/mom has to do, using a bicycle as the primary mode of transportation doesn't seem feasible.

But using the bike once a week for a shorter errand, or using the bike twice a week to get small amounts of groceries, or using the bike three times a week for a half hour of fitness riding is feasible. Starting small, taking the proverbial baby steps, is the way to work the bike as transportation into one's life. There'll be hiccups along the way, but isn't this the case with all new endeavors? I've faced a lot of hiccups, but over the last four years I've also learned a lot that has allowed me to make tweaks here and there to improve the process. The learning process has actually turned out to be one of the most exciting aspects of cycling. Seems like every time I ride, whether it be my commute or for fitness, I figure out another cycling problem that makes the next ride even better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Failure, But Just For This Evening

Day 3 into a 30 day healthy eating challenge with a friend turned into an epic failure for me. I did really well right up until dinner. I stood up to join the family in the kitchen, and I made it as far as the table then had to hold onto one of the chairs while I waited for the grip of dizziness to pass. That bout of dizziness was the second time today that I about went down. The first time happened when I stood from sitting at my desk in the office. Thankfully Funny Delightful Son was standing next to the desk and wanted to give me a hug right then. I put my arms around him and used our hug to keep myself steady. After the second round of seeing major black spots and feeling that telltale weakness wash through my muscles, I succumbed to eating not just one grilled cheese sandwich but two. And some Greek yogurt. After watching an episode of our current Netflix choice, I stood and waited. Nothing. Thankfully.

Going cold turkey on giving up sugar and processed carbs is tough. I know I've been consuming far too much sugar the last couple of weeks, what with Halloween and my once-a-week stops at the coffee shop for a caramel latte, so it's no wonder my body is rebelling. Shoving it full of sugar then abruptly turning off the faucet of the sweet goodness is bound to cause an adverse reaction. What will put me back on track tomorrow is that even though I only made it through 2 1/2 days of healthy eating, I could tell a huge difference in how I was feeling. Despite today's moments of dizziness, the rest of the 2 1/2 days was really good. Energy. Focus. Not feeling the 2 pm sugar coma coming on. Excellent nights' sleep. All of these positives I want all the time.

Kind of sums up my healthy eating failure: the frost on the bridge can be slippery, causing a fall. Just get up, dust off, keep going.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walking Happy

Three years ago marked my first 5k, the Jingle Bell Run. Lovely Beautiful Daughter ran with me to offer encouragement and support if I reached a point of wanting to walk. My goal was to complete the race without resorting to walking. While I wasn't fast by any means, and I can't even remember what my time was, I did jog the entire 3 miles, my daughter at my side. I ran the same race a year later, said no to doing it last November, then said yes to doing it again this year but with the intention of just walking. During these past three years of running, cycling, and swimming, I reconciled myself to the fact that running isn't my strong suit and swimming is just okay. Neither are something that I simply can't wait to do everyday. Walking, however, is much like cycling: I can do each for hours on end, enjoying every single second. So today I walked the three miles to the starting point (which happened to be my place of employment) then walked the 5k, giving me a total of 6 miles for the day. Every step I took brought me happiness. Even in the 49 mph winds blowing from the south.






Saturday, November 10, 2012

Another Ride on the I & M Canal

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go north, to Peru/Lasalle, to ride the I & M Canal. I've ridden part of the canal before, but I wanted to go further, around 60 miles, to give me a chance to see what this distance feels like on the mountain bike. With the Gravel Grovel only two weeks away, I knew I needed to get some distance in or I will be hurting badly in two weeks. Hubby dropped me off at the Lasalle access, and I started off under sunny skies and a breeze blowing out of the south.

My goal was to try and average at least 15 mph. My first five miles showed 14. I noticed I felt tired, like I didn't have a lot of energy though I'd made sure to eat a good breakfast. The last two or three weeks, I've not had much of an appetite. I've basically been eating only to make sure I don't get so fatigued I can't focus or function. There have been a couple of times, too, when I do eat that I reach a point where I feel nauseous. Mostly, though, I find myself standing in the kitchen, going through the cupboards and fridge, searching for something to spark my interest. Nothing does. The only thing that has sounded good is pancakes. And french fries. Why these two items, I don't know, but if it means eating, I'll eat them. I've had more pancakes the last two weeks than I have the last two years.

So I tried to kick my pace up a notch. For the next ten miles I was able to keep the average speed above 15. I still wasn't feeling great though. I stopped and drank some of my sports drink and ate a GU, then started off again, hoping to feel better at some point. I wondered if not riding at all the last two weeks, since the Tour de Shawnee, was part of my problem, but you'd think having some time away would actually be a good thing. I have been commuting every day, a short 6 miler; however, this distance probably isn't nearly enough to maintain the level of fitness I'd achieved from the summer ride.

When I was 38 miles in, I reached Morris. Hubby met me there to have lunch. We found a little bakery and had panini sandwiches with soup and a piece of pumpkin pie. I ate half of my sandwich and the pie, but again, I just couldn't find it in me to eat anymore. Usually when I ride like this, I can put the food away. Instead, just looking at the second half of the sandwich made me feel like barfing. I wrapped it, put it in a bag, and stowed it in the truck to have after finishing the ride.

I set off again, heading towards my 60 miles for the day. Five miles beyond Morris I resigned myself to having to settle for a steady 14 mph pace. I just didn't have the gumption to do anymore than that. During this part of the ride, I also stopped and took pictures. This length of the I & M was new territory for me, so I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. During one long stretch, the path took me through a thick woods. I saw movement on my left, and when I turned to look, I saw the most beautiful buck I've ever seen in my life. He ran alongside me then ahead, and when he was thirty yards beyond, he cut over and onto the path. He ran for quite some time in front of me before veering to the right and back into the woods. That majestic animal was the picture that got away. And I hope he continues to get away from the hunters whose deer stands could be spotted all through those woods, and grace others with his beauty.

The last 15 miles of the ride offered up some truly wonderful sights. A spillway with yellow leaves trapped at the bottom, a hornets nest hanging from a branch over the canal water, trees gnawed at by beavers, the dam the beavers built, and gulls diving down to the lake's surface to snatch up an unsuspecting fish.While my average speed for the day didn't meet my intended goal, I don't really care. Life isn't a race to rush through. Rather, it's something to savor.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Dreaded Business Plan

I've been working on the business plan for my bike shop dream, and after completing the section on market needs, I scrolled down the outline I put into place to see just how much more I need to develop. My shoulders slumped. I felt like I was right back in grad school, writing that 20 page paper on The Tempest. After several hours of writing about the evils of colonization, I thought surely I was on page 20. Sadly, I was only on page 8. While some ideas come easily and I can write about them with little effort, other areas, really important areas, get pushed to the side and ignored. I thought I was getting close to being finished with the business plan. Ha! Not only do I still have over ten sections to fill out, but these sections deal with numbers, something I usually try to avoid. I didn't like algebra in high school, and I didn't enjoy trigonometry and statistics in college. Hence the degree in English.

Why can't I just walk into a bank and tell the loan officer my wonderful plan? Why does the plan have to be in writing? After all, the bike shop dream truly is wonderful. Just ask me. And furthermore, why do I have to show all the numbers? I can be trusted with lots of money. Really, I can.

Despite feeling overwhelmed right now by writing up my bike shop idea, I know eventually, if I just keep chipping away at it, I'll finish it. If I'm serious about opening up a women's specific bike shop, I have to at least try to make it happen. If I don't finish the plan and present it to the people who can fund my idea, the bike shop idea will remain just that--an idea. If I finish it and get turned down, at least I'll be able to move forward knowing I tried. I'll be unhappy for awhile, but there are other ways to combine my love for cycling and helping women that don't require a bike shop.

I love this pic. It helps bring me back to center.




Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Breakthrough

Hubby is a classic enabler.

Today called for rain. My response: pack my rain jacket and hat just in case the ride home was wet. It was. No worries. I was prepared.

When I walked through the door after work, he asked, "Did you get my text?" I shook my head. "I was going to come get you."

How am I going to follow through on my desire to commute by bike if every time it showers or the temperature dips below 30 he is waiting at the door to load my bike into the truck and drive me home? I've reached the point where I don't mind getting a bit damp or feel a little cold during my ride. I'll dry off, and I'll warm up. Hubby, though, can't seem to wrap his brain around the idea of using the bike as transportation no matter what the weather offers up.

I do understand where he is with his thinking. I was there two years ago when I first tried going car-less. I did okay as long as rain wasn't falling and the temps didn't go below 40. Once the snow came, the bike went up on the hooks in the garage, right alongside Hubby's hybrid and the cruiser. Now my thinking is completely different. My comfort levels changed somewhere along the way, and I no longer worry about how the weather will affect my travels.

When I placed my bag on the kitchen counter and took off my knit hat, sprinkling droplets of water onto the floor, Hubby said, "You're really going to ride no matter what, aren't you?"

I nodded. Yes, I'm really going to ride no matter what.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Latest Obsession

Bracelets from recycled bicycle chain links and valve lock nuts. Each one is unique. I've started adding charms to the ends and am working on the knots. With each bracelet, I'm getting more efficient and the end product is getting better. A very relaxing activity.
 
The black and gray is the very first one I made. Lots of imperfections in it, but I like it and think it looks pretty good on my wrist.
  
The orange and blue is the second one I made. This is the one I added the valve lock nuts to. I'm not a real fan of the colors, but again, I like the way it looks on my wrist.
This is my favorite so far. This is for a friend whose daughter attends the University of Kentucky. She's also a cyclist, so she gets the whole chain link, valve lock nut thing.

I've also made two pink with purple and one black with yellow. The pink and purple just aren't turning out for some reason, and I think it's because the purple string is much thinner than the other strings in the bag. The whole learning process has been fun, and thanks to one of the local bike shops, I have enough links and valve lock nuts to do quite a few more.

Cycling Towards Freedom

I'm making a concerted effort to use my bike for my main transportation, which means I have had to do some deep-down, honest soul searching. This isn't my first try at leaving the gas guzzler in the garage; I tried to go car-less two years ago. I found out very quickly I wasn't ready to make the commitment and follow through. Now, after cycling all summer through wind, heat, rain, and thunderstorms, my mindset is quite different. Since returning to work in early August, I've cycled every day save four. Two of those days I simply had too much to carry to work than what I could put on my bike, and the other two Funny Delightful Son missed the bus, so I took him to school (which I only did because his school is on the same route as mine). With each day I cycle, the more determined I become to make the bike my only transportation source. Now, with the weather turning colder, I'll face the real test. Hopefully, I'll be able to stick with my resolve and cycle straight through the winter months.

Today I wanted to get in a longer ride, but I also wanted to get some fresh eggs from the farm out near the lake. My old self would have said, "Ride Sweetness for 30 miles. Afterwards drive up and get the eggs." Today, my new self said, "Ride SheBeast and just pack the eggs in the rack pannier. You'll get in 22 miles plus the eggs." A win-win. I checked the temp and wind direction, figured out what I needed to wear for 43 degrees, then set off. While the ride to the farm was against a chilly headwind, I was dressed for it and stayed pretty warm, almost too warm as I could feel the sweat trickling down my back about 5 miles in. At the farm, I selected a carton of eggs from the fridge in the Egg Barn, packed it in my pannier, then headed home. With the wind at my back, I rolled along with little effort.

Not one cracked egg!
Along this same route is a farm that sells cheeses. I figured since I was out I might as well stop and buy some colby and sharp cheddar. I packed these on top of my eggs then started off for the coffee shop. My plan was to stop for coffee and read a bit before heading home. When I arrived at the coffee shop, I was dismayed to see every table and easy chair taken. Not to be deterred, I ordered my latte along with a cinnamon-raisin bagel, and sat outside to drink, eat, and read. My layers of clothing, wool socks, and thermal gloves worked great for cycling into the country and back, and they continued to keep me toasty while sitting at a bistro table outside the coffee shop.

Each day I cycle instead of drive, the less urge I feel to drive all the way around. When I think about going somewhere, I think in terms of how to get to the destination by bike. I love leaving the car in the garage, and I love not having to go to a gas station for fuel. Cycling for transportation truly is freeing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Caught in a Vortex

Sometimes life smacks you hard. Really hard. While I'm sitting here wondering how in the world I'm going to manage financing my bike shop dream, I find out a good friend has been dealt a double whammy: first her mom is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and then she finds out the umbilical cord of her unborn child has two vessels instead of the normal three. While this happens and a large percentage of babies with two-vessel umbilical cords are born without any complications, just knowing a chance for complications exists creates fear. My friend is full of fear right now, for her unborn child and for her mom. No words can comfort her. Even a hug seems trivial.

Life. Such sadness sometimes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Conquering the Tour de Shawnee

Two years ago, Hubby and I traveled to Cape Girardeau to participate in the Tour de Shawnee. The Tour being in southern Illinois, I knew there were going to be hills since this area of Illinois is tucked very nicely in between Kentucky and Missouri. The first hill we came to slammed home the fact that the Tour wasn't going to be easy. I looked at Hubby, saying, "See you at the top" and put my head down, intent on making it without having to get off my bike like so many other cyclists were doing. I did make it to the top that day without having to get off my bike, which was the hybrid I'd bought to compete in my first sprint triathlon, and I felt pretty darn good about my accomplishment. That day, Hubby and I finished the metric century together, battling a southerly headwind for 15 miles. I had wanted to ride the 100 miles, but Hubby asked me to stay with him since he was beginning to get tired and bonking at the 50 mile mark. I vowed then and there I would return to the Tour one day and conquer the 100 miles. Two days ago, Friday, we arrived back in Cape Girardeau to spend the night then get up and ride the Tour on Saturday.

The day started out very chilly, around 38 degrees, and the wind added further chill at 13 mph. As we stood in line, ready to roll out, I felt pretty good as I'd made sure to put on the fleece leggings along with the wool socks. Only my cheeks were cold, but I was hoping once we got going, I'd warm up. Not long after 8 am, we followed the leaders out onto Rt. 3 and began the Tour de Shawnee.

Hubby had decided to do the hilly 30 route to ride with me for about 25 of those 30 miles. When we reached "The Hill" as we'd started calling it, I again said, "See you at the top" and started up. I'm pretty sure a smile was plastered on my face as I climbed--all I was thinking about were the many hills I'd climbed all summer and how this one was now just another hill. There really wasn't anything special about it. I stopped at the top to wait for Hubby, and while I waited, I joked and laughed with those reaching the top. Many were gasping for breath, some coughing, some having to get off their bike to lean over and get more blood flow to their head. One woman exclaimed, "I didn't know there were hills in Illinois." One young man belched then looked at me and apologized. I just laughed, asking, "Feel better?" He shook his head no. When Hubby arrived, we started off, gearing up for the next hill.

Through the next 10 miles, we climbed, with me waiting at the top of each hill while Hubby made his way up, and we rode along, enjoying the fall colors. Hubby wasn't feeling the greatest, but what can he expect after not riding for quite some time now? He did make it to the first rest stop where he decided to call it a day, and I started off to finish what I traveled to Cape Girardeau to do. 

For the next 85 miles, I rode through beautiful countryside, most of my thoughts on the summer ride: the train rumbling by in Mineral, the moon over Vesuvius, the vistas of Kentucky, the ferry ride across the river to Illinois, the bridge over the Mississippi, the cyclist hostel in Farmington, the night ride from Chanute to Cassoday, the heat of Kansas, the sunrise in Haswell, the climb of Monarch Pass. And so many more memories. Dealing with a northerly headwind that made riding difficult even while going east and west, I found I simply kept going. I never thought about packing it in, cutting the ride short because of how difficult the going was. I knew I could do the 100. It was just like any of the days from the summer ride.

At mile 64, Hubby met me at the rest stop. There, I told him I was going to pass up the next rest stop scheduled for mile 84 and just go to the one at 94. He would meet me there to see how I was feeling. When I rolled into mile 94 rest stop, Hubby was stunned to see me, as he put it, "so soon. You must have been hauling." Not really, but having the wind at my back for a longer stretch definitely helped. I was able to shift to the large sprocket and just roll along at a smooth 21 mph which was quite a difference from the 13 mph into the headwind.

The six miles from the rest stop to the finish were again into the headwind, but I sat back and enjoyed. I was one of the few who'd taken on the challenge and not backed out because of the wind. I fulfilled my vow: I conquered the Tour de Shawnee, loving every second of it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Empowering A Friend

Part of following through on the decision to make a change, to take the leap into a complete unknown, involves having to write up a business plan. One section of the plan is to examine the "competition," so I've been researching existing establishments similar to what I want to do. Not only am I gaining valuable information about what's already out there, but I'm also finding more and more angles to take with my idea. Even just talking with a friend will spark another A-Ha moment, and I scramble to write down what occurred to me in order not to lose it. This happened yesterday when a friend texted me, asking about reflector vests and lights for her bike. When I replied, offering a couple of suggestions, I wondered how many others have wanted to use their bicycles for running errands or commuting to work but don't because of not knowing where to start to ensure comfort as well as a high degree of cycling safety. Then the idea occurred to me to have a clinic on what to wear as well as how to outfit the bike to enjoy running errands and commuting. I've seen clinics advertised--and attended one--on changing a bike tire, cleaning and lubing the chain, and learning the basics of braking and shifting, but I've never seen an errand running/commuting clinic offered. Seems to me that one of the obstacles to trying something is just not knowing where to start. My friend did what I suggested she do, texting me afterwards, and the exclamation point along with the smiley face were all I needed to know she was on her way to using her bike more often for transportation.

Having helped another woman overcome a cycling problem is the exact reason I want to open a women's specific bike shop. I spent the entire evening thinking about how this friend can now cycle with the peace of mind that comes from being prepared. And this morning, her FB status update showed her excitement about the new found freedom of riding in the dark but feeling safe in doing so. I, in turn, felt excited and happy for her. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Tug of Emotions

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love it for how I can keep up with friends and family. I love it for being able to see pictures and videos. I hate it for how much time I find myself spending on it. Because I've committed myself to changing my life in several significant ways, I decided less time on Facebook and less time online all the way around had to happen. One day I'll be able to stay on track. The next, I'm a train that's a catastrophic derailment. Then there are the days, like this morning, when I get on Facebook and find a comment in response to a post, a comment that helps me in several ways, and I'm head over heels in love again.

Such was the case this morning. Yesterday, I posted how I'd come across an injured hawk and found myself unable to help it. While I wished I could make sure it was in a safe place, getting the help it needed, I just didn't know where to turn. This morning, I checked in at Facebook and found a comment from JRA of One Speed: Go. He listed a link to people around the area who were licensed to take in wildlife and rehabilitate them. I found the number for a woman who lives close, so I called her. Though she only rehabs an animal after it has received veterinary care, she advised me on how to capture the hawk then where to take it. After talking with her, I gathered the necessary equipment--our old dog crate, a broom, and some leather gloves--and set off with the hope that the hawk was where I'd left it. I knew this might not be the case, as nearly 15 hours had passed since I'd come upon it.

When I came up over the rise and looked for the red post marking the spot, finding it with no problem, the hawk was nowhere to be seen. I pulled the truck into a drive leading to a turbine and parked. For the next half hour, I walked both sides of the road, scanned the bare fields stretching away from the grassy shoulder, and even walked the rows of a still-standing cornfield to look for the bird. Nothing. Thankfully, I never found traces of a fight either, no feathers, no blood, no tracks in the muddy fields. My hope is that either someone who knew exactly what to do when he came across the hawk did exactly that, or the hawk's feathers righted themselves enough after its resting yesterday that it was able to fly away.

While I couldn't help this time, Facebook, for all its drawbacks, put me in the position to help next time. I now have a website with valuable names and numbers bookmarked. I now have three immediate options for where to take an injured wild animal. I have the equipment to capture and transport an injured animal at the ready if needed. Though I feel sad for the hawk (but I'm going with the hope that it is flying high above the Illinois prairie right now), I also feel empowered all because of Facebook.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Helpless

On my way back from the lake today, I came across this beauty. I slowed when I was about 15 feet away, thinking it would spread its wings and whoosh up into the air, but it stayed put. I got off my bike, all the while waiting for it to take flight. It merely looked at me. I stepped closer to it. It began to raise its one wing, so I edged around behind and could see the wing on the other side was in pretty bad shape, several feathers sticking out away from its body and several feathers appearing as if gnawed by whatever got hold of it. I called Hubby who gave me the number to animal control, but when I called, no one picked up. Their hours are M-F. I called Lovely Beautiful Daughter to see if she had the number for her aunt, the one person I knew who would know who to call to help the bird. Lovely Beautiful Daughter didn't have her aunt's number. Neither did I since we downgraded our phones yesterday, going from smart phones to those that just call and text. So much for simplifying. In the end, I had to say good-bye to the hawk, leaving it to fight for its life on its own.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Taking the Leap

I am so full of joy right now after reading that one of my BTUSFMS teammates signed up to do the ride again for summer 2013. In his bio on the BTUSFMS website, he says the ride changed his perspective on so many things. I know exactly what he means.

Yesterday I was chatting with a colleague, and I found myself thinking about the day we cycled the Blue Ridge Parkway. Out of nowhere came memories of cycling up the hill at Afton with three of my teammates. A little later in the day, while in class, thoughts about how hot it was the day we cycled to Tribune, KS filled my mind. Every day, the summer ride intrudes, making me stop whatever I'm working on to reminisce and dream of being back out on the road. I find myself impatient with my "real" world. Much of what makes up this "real" world seems purposeless now. I want out. I want to feel that sense of purpose I experienced all summer.

So, I made a decision. I'm going to take the leap, leaving what makes me unhappy to begin a new chapter in my life. This change is going to happen slowly, but I decided June 1, 2013 is the "due date" for the new chapter to begin. I chose this date to align with the one-year anniversary of the day I began my cycling journey across the US, the day that truly started an awakening in me. At this point, I am in the process of writing up the plan, talking with people in the know, and gathering information. Everyone I have talked to has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, which helps allay the terror I feel when I think about leaving the known for the unknown.

Having made the decision to make this change, I again feel like I have purpose in my life. I'm excited and scared and determined, just like I was when I signed up for the BTUSFMS ride. I know without a doubt I'm making the right decision, and I look forward to what the future will bring. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Successful Silencing of That Voice

The scarlet trees!

Yes, I stopped on the way to work this morning to capture the three trees I passed by yesterday. As soon as I pulled off the trail, I notice a fourth scarlet tree. The sun was just coming up, so I walked around, taking shots from various angles. The worry about being late to my office didn't poke at me. The unease that I might have to rush to my 8:00 class never surfaced. No. Instead I stood in the silence of the morning, delighted with how I'd missed the fourth tree all this time, and the fact that a beautiful yellow-orange leafed tree added a colorful splash amidst the scarlet beauties.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Silencing That Voice

This morning, during my commute to work, I came across three trees covered in scarlet leaves. I've ridden by these trees every single morning and afternoon since August, but it wasn't until this morning, when the sun just started to rise, pushing away the gray of dawn, that I truly noticed the three trees. I slowed, telling myself to take a picture, but then that other voice, the one that tells me I have to hurry, I have to get to work, I have to finish up student work, yeah, that voice, took hold of my feet and made them pedal on. As soon as I was past, a sadness came over me. I'd let that voice win again. I've been working hard to silence that voice, so I'm not sure why it won out this morning. 

This afternoon, as I was sitting in my office, I heard the tell-tale sound of rain against the building roof. I stepped out to see just how hard the rain was falling. Torrents of water rushed off the roof, spilling out into the drive where students were arriving for their afternoon classes. That voice whispered how uncomfortable the ride home would be. Just then, Lovely Beautiful Daughter walked up, laughing at me watching it rain. When she found out I'd cycled to work, she offered me her car. I didn't even give that voice a chance; I quickly declined, saying I had my raincoat and would be just fine. Lovely Beautiful Daughter shook her head then set off for class.

By late afternoon, the sky had darkened, and a fine, steady mist fell. I pulled on my raincoat, turned on my bike lights, and set off. A mile into the ride, between the mist (which is much more like a shower when the bike is in motion) and the 20 mph winds, my hair was slicked back and soaked. Water ran down between my eyes and dripped off the end of my nose. Motorists laughed when they saw me, and I just laughed with them, thinking how sad it was they all were trapped by that voice.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Change

Here it is October 13, 2012. The days of this year have slipped away so quietly, so quickly, and now I'm sitting here stunned. The trees are cloaked in red, yellow, and orange. The cornfields and soy bean fields lie barren. Frost sparkles on the lawn in the early morning sun. While I can sift through memories created during the last 10 months, probably the most vivid memories in the last ten years, I'm still amazed over how time has passed in a blink.

I've always loved the change of seasons. This fall, I feel another change happening. Me. A new direction is opening. Slowly. But slow suits where my mind is right now. Slow helps erase the fear that clings to the idea of change. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

From Anger and Disappointment to Complete Happiness

"I can't get the pump to go beyond 10 psi. All the air just comes right back out," Hubby said, coming into the kitchen where I was fixing my pancake breakfast before setting off for a group ride.

"You broke the valve." I wasn't happy. I only had one spare tube. Now I had none to carry with me on the ride.

I ate while he worked on the tire then went to the bedroom to get dressed for the chilly morning. With temps in the 30's, I knew the only way to stay warm was to wear the wool socks and thermal leggings. A longsleeved undershirt was a must, too.

"You need a new mechanic," Hubby said when I returned to the kitchen.

"Really? You broke that one, too?" I could feel the anger churn. I'd been looking forward to this ride all week since I'd not been able to get a ride in because of all the "stuff": work, dentist appointments, more work. I'd had my heart set on riding Sweetness, but now, if I wanted to go,  I had to take "The Bette," my new mountain bike (yeah, I finally named the new one when I was rolling along, thinking about my mom, and it occurred to me that my new bike was beautiful and tough, just like my mom).

Because of the whole valve issue, I arrived at the starting point late. Very late. And still feeling the fluster of things going wrong. Thankfully, the guy handing out cue sheets had just started to pull away when I rolled up, so he stopped and asked if I was there for the ride. He handed me a cue sheet, saying there were maybe a dozen others who'd already started off. To me, knowing others were in front of me set up a challenge: could I catch them? I figured there was no way since I was on the mountain bike, so I set off hoping to just meet up with them in Mackinaw and have lunch.

I've found that I truly don't mind riding in any kind of weather these days, which is definitely one of the by-products of the summer ride. Rain, wind, cold, heat. The weather doesn't deter me from getting out. It used to. There were days before the summer ride when if it was raining I wouldn't cycle. If it was windy, I dreaded being on the bike. Today the WNW headwind registered at 14 mph when I left, adding to the chill of the morning. But I didn't think about the cold or the wind. I just rode. And the further I rode, the happier I became.

A couple of miles before reaching one of the small towns on the route, I came around a curve and saw another cyclist ahead of me. I was pleasantly surprised. Not long after passing him and after leaving the small town behind, I saw a group of cyclists beginning to climb one of the hills on the route. I caught up to them at the top and rode the rest of the way to Mackinaw with the group. At the restaurant, I ran into a couple of people I work with, so we had lunch then rode the return ride together, enjoying the wind at our backs for 20+ miles.

And to think that two broken valves almost kept me from riding.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Those Irritating Writing Police

Nothing will get me going more than to have someone, be it an English teacher or a student or a tutor, rip a beginning writer's (I say "beginning" because I truly believe the majority of the students I work with don't have a clear understanding of the tools available to writers) paper apart by doing or saying any or all of the following:

Doing:
  • Crossing out the writer's words;
  • Crossing out the writer's words and replacing with something else (this one makes me furious);
  • Crossing out an entire paragraph;
  • Writing a negative comment in the margin and adding three exlamation points after it.
Saying:
  • Don't use contractions (oops! I just used one myself, and I'm an English teacher);
  • Don't use I, we, or you in the paper;
  • Don't italicize a word unless it comes from a source you are referring to and is italicized in that source;
  • Don't use one word as a sentence;
  • Don't start a sentence with because;
  • Don't start a sentence with and or but;
  • Don't ever all-cap a word;
  • Don't write long sentences because they'll be run ons (huh? long automatically equals run on?).
Sheesh. Really?

Nothing will crush a beginning writer's spirits more than having a person (English teacher, peer, tutor) cross out her work, effectively silencing her voice, while simultaneously wagging the index finger at her and telling her NOT to do all of these things. If a sentence is awkward and confusing, just tell the writer it is so. Let the writer tackle the sentence and rewrite it, hopefully clearing up the awkwardness and confusion. If the writer uses a contraction, simply ask if the assignment allows for such informal language. Same goes for all the other don'ts on the list--ask the writer what her intentions were rather than slamming the door closed all the way around.

End of rant.

To my student whose spirits were visibly crushed today because another student did all of these things and more, I believe in you and your writing abilities. When I read your paper, I smiled from beginning to end because you took risks and played with the language. In the process, you also offered me a glimpse into the extraordinary life of a man who has touched many lives. Even though I read your paper three weeks ago, I still remember the way you turned a phrase and brought life to the words on the page. You communicated with me, and  that's exactly what good writing does.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Day for Angels

When they were living in Tennessee, my parents became very close friends with the parish priest. Fishing, eating meals together, and sometimes just sitting on the front porch of the cabin happened frequently. This priest baptized Lovely Beautiful Daughter and Funny Delightful Son, and at times was called upon to be a member of the audience when Lovely Beautiful Daughter performed the little shows she wrote and starred in. He always graciously complied. Then we moved away, and he moved away at the Church's bidding, and we lost touch.

Today, after nearly 14 years of life interrupting, our parish priest friend arrived to offer a memorial Mass for Mom at my parents' home. I cancelled my classes, called the kids out of school, and we drove over to participate. As soon as we walked through the door, he looked at Lovely Beautiful Daughter and asked, "Where's your tutu?", a ballerina costume made of muted gold satin Lovely Beautiful  Daughter wore for days on end when she was three and four years old. She wore it so much that the voile skirt began to tatter and the satin bodice thinned to the point of splitting. She wore it with bright blue socks and red slip on tennis shoes. She wore it to bed, to play in, and to her Mimi's. Lovely Beautiful Daughter laughed, saying the tutu had long ago been retired. "Those were the days," Parish Priest Friend mused.

After marveling over Funny Delightful Son's height and commenting on how Angel Baby shares my facial structure, Parish Priest Friend prepared the Mass. Two of Mom's closest friends, my sister and her husband, my family, and Dad gathered in the living room. When Parish Priest Friend began, he commented on the fact that today's readings were for the Guardian Angels. I had to smile. Mom talked often about believing in angels. She asked me once when I was visiting if I believe in angels. I kind of think she orchestrated today's arrival of Parish Priest Friend just to have her memorial Mass on the day of the Guardian Angels readings.

And in answer to her question: Angel Baby is named for one of the archangels.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Vicious Cycle

For nearly a year now, I've been finding myself doing anything and everything besides what I need to be doing, namely reading and evaluating student work. Whenever I tell myself to plop my behind down in front of the computer and start in on the submitted exercises/assignments, a feeling akin to nausea rumbles in the pit of my stomach. Its slimy tendrils spread through my body, turning my limbs to jelly. I'll make it as far as the office door and can see my computer, but my feet refuse to take another step. Only when I turn and walk away, maybe washing the dishes or putting in a load of laundry or going outside to merely sit on the back deck, does the nausea abate. Avoiding what needs to be done has only created a huge pile of work that now seems insurmountable.

A favorite pic from the summer. Maybe a hint? 

It's time to face the problem. Instead of dancing around the issue, hoping the desire returns to continue doing what I've been doing for many years, a plan needs to be put into place and action taken. Only I don't know where to start. Fear makes me think a change right now is the wrong way to go. I enjoy a position of stability, an income that covers the family's needs and wants, and other perks many people wish they had. Seems absolutely crazy to let go of all this. So what to do?

See? Even now I'm immersing myself in writing rather than doing what needs to be done. I'm caught in a vicious cycle.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

No Room for Ugly

The other day, a dear friend of mine witnessed a woman working at the thrift store being especially nasty towards a customer. While I don't know all the details, I know enough to say bravo to my friend for stepping forward and letting the thrift store woman know her behavior was out of line. My friend did know the customer, an international student who doesn't speak English as her first language and who has a tough time understanding what is being said to her at times. Unfortunately, this young woman was subjected to the ugly that some individuals live by.

Today, I finally said enough to the negative comments of one individual towards another, both cyclists who rode the BTUSFMS during the summer. I consider both friends, and because I tend to shrink from confrontation, for four months, I kept my thoughts to myself. At this point, I decided my silence about the issue was actually an endorsement of the negative comments. I don't agree with this person's position and finally said so. I should have stepped forward long ago. I know the one friendship is most likely over because of my defense of the other, but I'm okay with this. I don't want ugly in my life.

Beautiful! Look at those petunias!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Change of Plans

Less than three miles into a planned long ride on the I & M path, Hubby's phone rang. Angel Baby was having a problem with his left eye, and he had a headache. Could we please come get him? Honestly, part of me wanted to tell him to suck it up and get back to his classroom. Didn't he realize we'd just spent over an hour driving to get to the path? Didn't he realize I had mileage I needed to rack up? I didn't say any of this, though, because I could tell by his voice that he wasn't his usual perky, happy self. Instead, I told him his sister would be there as soon as possible to pick him up, and we would be on our way home within the next fifteen minutes. So we turned our bikes around, and rather than a day of ambling along the canal lined with purple-leafed vines and trees of vibrant yellow foliage, we hurried back to the truck, quickly removed the front tires from both bikes to load them in the back, then set off for the return drive. Once home, I made Angel Baby a lunch of two grilled cheese sandwiches with a side of mac and cheese. Not even an hour later, his eye was back to normal, the headache gone. While I was happy he felt like his usual self, I couldn't help but think my day's plan had been ruined.

Then I thought about the drive home, how Hubby and I joked and laughed with one another the entire way. I thought about Angel Baby asleep on the couch when I walked in, him waking enough to offer a small smile. When asked if he'd like a grilled cheese, he gave me that little boy look of raised eyebrows and slightly puckered lips I so seldom get anymore because most of the little boy is gone. He actually has the beginnings of a mustache on his upper lip. After practically inhaling the grilled cheese, he asked for another. While we ate, we snuggled together on the couch and watched an episode of "White Collar." I could feel his heart beating as he leaned into me.

My day's plan hadn't been ruined at all. It simply changed. I'll be able to ride another day, enjoy the fall colors another day, through the years to come. My Angel Baby, though, is very quickly leaving childhood behind. Who knows how many more snuggling opportunities will come my way? So even if he calls from school when I'm over an hour away, riding my bike along a path lined with weeping willows adorned with sparkling lights and unicorns tossing their long, silken mane, asking me to come get him because he's not feeling well, I'm going to do it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Recycled Parts

My first hub and spokes light. I'm happy with it, but I do have ideas for improving upon it. I really enjoyed sitting on the stool in the garage, at the workbench Hubby made just for me and my projects, and putting this together.

Hub and Spokes Side Table Lamp
My workbench--all mine.
With materials! Thanks bike shop dude for giving me the trash wheels.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Me and My Mountain Bike Have a Date

What does one do when one buys a new mountain bike? Why, one signs up for a metric century mountain bike race of course. At least that's what I did. Which made one of my colleagues laugh so hard he about fell off his chair. Not kidding. He couldn't get over the fact that I had just bought the bike, had only rode it one time, then decided I was going to do the Gravel Grovel in Indiana Thanksgiving weekend. Clearly he thinks I'm nuts.

Me, Brian, and Tanya getting ready to climb, climb, climb!
My thinking is I love being in the saddle for hours. I also love having a challenge, something I've not done before. Riding across the US was definitely a challenge that allowed me to be in the saddle for hours each day. Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hayter's Gap, all of the hills of Missouri, Monarch Pass, Carson Pass, and lots of other hills in between, I found I can climb just fine. The ride strengthened my body and my mind, and now I'm ready for a different challenge.

I still feel the pull to ride for hours at a time, being out, only thinking about and living in the here and now. When my friend sent me the link to the Gravel Grovel, I immediately knew this was the challenge I'd been searching for. Like with BTUSFMS, I have something to focus on, prepare for. While it's a race, I'm simply hoping to finish in once piece. Climbing on gravel will be tough, no doubt, so I have my work cut out for me as I train over the next eight weeks. I got two good rides in over the weekend, one a 25 miler with a very strong 20 mph headwind for 12.5 miles, the other a 31 miler with lots of riding on the soft, sandy/pebbly shoulder of the back roads, some gravel roads, and some trails up at the lake. The second ride left me tired, that good tired which tells you your body worked hard. If I can continue these kinds of rides over the next 8 weeks, I should be able to finish the metric. I want to set a time goal, but I'll do this once I get closer to race day.

Just as with the BTUSFMS ride, the mere thought of the Gravel Grovel sends shivers through me. I'm scared and excited at the same time. And that's exactly how I like it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Getting My Hands Dirty

The pawn shop bike was a great buy. I made a clock out of the back wheel, a picture holder out of the front wheel, and key rings out of the chain. Not bad for a $25 investment. Since finishing the key rings, what remained of the frame and the rest of the components hung in the garage. Until this week. Now I'm onto another project. Rather, I should say projects. In the process, I've begun learning about cranksets, cogs, wheelsets, and tire sizes. I've begun learning how to tighten spokes as well as remove them. I've found myself sitting in the garage for hours at a time, fiddling with one bike item or another. I've been to the bike shops, asking the bike shop dudes all kinds of questions. Ideas, plans, and dreams spring forth in the garage as I get my hands dirty.

My first project which will take some time to complete is to build a fixie. I initially thought I would use the frame from the pawn shop bike, but after examining the old wheels as well as the wheels from one of the hybrids, I realized the wheels I was hoping to buy for the fixie won't fit the frame. I could put the same size wheels on the bike that were on it when I got it, but the bike would be too small for me to ride comfortably. Hubby suggested I find a bigger frame, so now I'm on the hunt for another cheap, old bike for its frame. I've seen quite a few bikes for sale at yard sales. I shouldn't have to hunt long.

Another project in the works is to take some of the components and turn them into art. I'm in the middle of creating a small side table lamp by using the spokes from a bent wheel I picked up at the bike shop last week. While it's a fairly simple project, I had to have Hubby's expertise in putting an ON/OFF switch on the cord along with a new plug on the cord. He also had to show me how to use a drill. The lamp itself is now assembled and actually works, so it's time to work on attaching the spokes. This is a baby-steps project, but the fact that I'm making progress, learning how to work with foreign materials, gives me confidence to go onto other creations with which I can get my hands dirty.

 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big Mac Abomination

The Big Mac in a blender was an epic failure. The special sauce didn't provide nearly the amount of liquidfication I had hoped for, so the burger patties along with the bun, pickles, lettuce, onions, and cheese turned into what can best be described as a lump of poo. You'd think with this thought in mind as I'm scooping the glob out of the blender I wouldn't eat it, but no, I ate every last bit of it. Not enjoying any part of it. Just going through the motions because dang it anyway, I went through the trouble of blending it and I really wanted something besides cream of chicken soup, so I was going to eat it. After seeing what happened to the Big Mac, I decided against blending the fries. Those I left alone. Those I did enjoy eating.

Thankfully the tooth/jaw/ear pain has disappeared. The liquid diet must have allowed the affected area to settle down, return to some semblance of normal, so last night I very carefully ate shrimp fried rice and a veggie egg roll. No pain resulted from the chewing. I'm still going to take it easy with the kinds of foods I eat, though, and the way I chew, just to make sure I don't cause further bruising. I truly do not want to have to try anymore blender experiments with some of my favorite foods. And yes, even though I'm all about fresh, organic, healthful foods, Big Macs are one of my favorite foods. They are my "special occasion" food.

Monday, September 17, 2012

When an Abscess Isn't an Abscess

What I thought was an abscessed tooth during the ride this summer wasn't really an abscessed tooth, it appears. At least that's what I'm thinking given the pain came back full force and then some last week. By Thursday I was in enough pain that I called my dentist who graciously worked me in that afternoon. Two xrays later, both of which showed absolutely nothing, the diagnosis was I have begun grinding my teeth in my sleep, and in the process of said grinding, I have bruised my gum. Seriously? A bruised gum becomes so painful that my teeth throb, my jaw feels like it's cracking apart, and my cheek swells up? My dentist suggested a treatment of ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation, and if needed, I'll have to wear a mouth guard while sleeping. I went home and took some ibuprofen, hoping this would do the trick.

It didn't. Friday afternoon, the pain was so intense I was reduced to a wimpering puddle on the couch. The dentist wasn't in on Fridays, and yes, he had given me his home phone number in case the ibuprofen didn't work, but I couldn't bring myself to call him. Not on a weekend. So I took more ibuprofen and resorted to eating only liquids Saturday and Sunday, going so far as to put chicken ramen noodles in the blender to puree. Not chewing seems to have done the trick. The pain eased considerably. While I can tell there's still something going on with the teeth/gum in question, I've not had the searing pain up into my jaw and ear like I had Friday.

Today's menu consists of a banana and strawberry smoothie for breakfast, pureed vegetable soup for lunch, and most likely another pureed food for dinner. I'm thinking a Big Mac and Fries. Yes, I see an experiment with junk food in a blender shaping up. It's all going to the same place anyway, right? I know I really should return to the dentist, but since the pain is gone, I've decided to  give the liquid diet a few more days to see if there are further improvements.