Monday, January 30, 2012

Bittersweet Birthday Lunch

Yesterday was my little Angel Baby's birthday (now 13, he'd probably not appreciate knowing he's being referred as such in the blogosphere, but I've called him Angel Baby since the day he was born so he's just going to have to continue to deal with it), and my dad's birthday is in just a couple of days, so we traveled over to Dad's to take both out for a birthday lunch. Despite our server's challenges (my first inclination was to think she was on something given the blank look one second, the confused look the next, and the slightly unsteady walk as she approached our table near the end of our meal, but then I thought maybe she was ill, facing something that caused her to appear to be in a condition she really wasn't), we had a wonderful lunch of BBQ ribs, salmon, and prime rib. Just as we were finishing, Beautiful Lovely Daughter called to offer happy birthday wishes to the birthday boys. While the lunch was good and we enjoyed ourselves, I couldn't help but think about Mom, and how through the years, she had been with us the many times we celebrated the two birthdays. Though no one said anything, I'm pretty sure all of us were feeling the emptiness of her not being there.

After visiting with Dad most of the afternoon, we set out for home. Leaving him was difficult; my heart aches at the thought of him being alone. I know, though, that my sister and her husband are there for him, and I know he has plans to visit my brother Super Bowl Sunday weekend. Still, we aren't Mom, who as a young woman during their senior year in high school wrote a wistful message in Dad's yearbook, telling her future husband what a "swell guy" he was, that the end of their school days together were close, and that yes, she was so happy to be attending prom--their first official date--with him.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thank Goodness for Cycle Shop Dudes

The new trainer arrived yesterday, and after mere minutes, the Madone was in place and ready for me to ride in the comfort of our living room. We selected a movie to watch while I pedaled, making the next hour slip by as I enjoyed the movie while getting my sweat on. Compared to our old trainer, this one is whisper quiet. Well, maybe not that quiet, but it's much better than the one now in the attic over the garage. At least we didn't have to turn the TV volume up all the way just to hear the dialogue. The only downside to trainer rides is it wears tires quickly, as was evidenced by the pieces of rubber littering our hardwood floor when I was finished.

So today I bought a trainer tire to put on the bike since a regular road bike tire doesn't last long due to the heat generated by the friction from the trainer. Hubby and I worked to get the trainer tire on, and with everything looking good, I pumped air into the tube. When the needle reached 100 psi, the tube blew, bringing Funny Delightful Son off the couch in a hurry, thinking the oven had blown up. Aggravated, I found my spare tube and started over. Forty-five minutes later, the tire still not seating in correctly right at the valve stem, I said enough and took it to the local cycle shop to have one of the guys help me out.

The first young guy worked at the tire, taking it off then putting it back on. The tube, though, kept bulging at the valve stem. He called the second young guy over, and between the two of them worked to get the trainer tire to seat. No go. A third guy came in, took hold of the tire, pressed it this way then that, took it off completely then put it back on. Because trainer tires are stiffer than road bike tires, it took two of the guys pressing as hard as they could to get the tire into place. In the end, the third guy was able to get the tube and tire to behave, but he walked away shaking his one hand over the pain caused trying to get the tire to seat.

After another hour on the trainer today, during which I watched the Purdue women's basketball team lose to Iowa--very frustrating--I checked the floor for little pieces of rubber. I didn't find any, giving me hope that this trainer tire will last until I can get back outside to ride.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Playing Big

Two weeks ago, my institution brought in a rather well-known individual who offers workshops to help those of us dealing with students interact with them in a more meaningful way. To begin the three-day workshop, the question offered to the group was, "How big do you want to play?" While that question was geared for me to think about what I do as well as what I want to accomplish in the classroom, I've been thinking about it from the perspective of what I want to accomplish with Bike the US for MS. Over the last week or so, I've begun to realize just how big the fundraising and the ride are getting, way bigger than I am, and while it scares the heebie-jeebies out of me, I find the prospect of raising money for an excellent cause and then cycling almost 4000 miles for that cause incredibly exciting. For the first time in a long time, I have a sense of purpose on a daily basis.

Much of my waking hours are spent thinking about the fundraising, the upcoming ride, Mom, and MS. I've not yet mastered balancing all of this with work and family, but I'm getting there. Thankfully I have enough sense to know I need to create a cushion allowing me to breathe easy in regards to class materials, student papers, and other work-related items. Planning out the entire semester put a little more fluff into the cushion; getting right on student work when it is submitted, rather than waiting until the 11th hour, has also put some extra fluff into the cushion. Doing both of these things have allowed me to get in some quality spin time on the bike and quality family time when I arrive home in the evenings. Hopefully I can continue on this path for the next sixteen weeks, not only creating a balance between home, work, and the upcoming ride, but also making all three areas of my life more fulfilling.

The last couple of years I've been wavering about what I want to do when I grow up. I had begun to think I was ready to get out of the classroom, but I didn't know where I could go, what I could do. Now I think I've found the answer to the where and the what. I love being in the classroom. I want to stay right there. But now, I'm looking at being in the classroom in a different way: I want to play big by helping my students not only find the joy in writing but in learning in general. I love being with my family. I want to play big with them, using the evenings and weekends to find ways to come together more than we already are. And I've learned over the last three months that I can use the love I have for cycling to play big with MS. There are so many kind and generous people in this world who are willing to help. All I have to do is ask. I want to play big by raising money to use for MS research and by using my love of cycling to help those struggling with the effects of MS on their daily lives.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Walking Around in a Daze

Today my boys and I went to lunch at my most favorite place of all--Denny's. Just love Denny's. They often send me coupons for 20% off my bills, so yes, I love Denny's. After we had ordered, Hubby looked at me and asked, "Have you checked your Bike the US for MS profile today?" (Yes, if this sounds familiar, it should. He asked me the same thing yesterday.) I shook my head no as I made a promise to myself that I would only check it once a day from now on, later in the evening. He turned his phone towards me so I could see the screen. My total had jumped again, to $2356, putting me at 62% of goal. Another dream donation had been made, this one by a dear, dear friend. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Dear Friend.

Yesterday's dream donation put me into a daze state. I went to the cupboard to get a glass for some chocolate milk. I pulled out a bowl and started pouring. When about a quarter of a cup pooled in the bottom, it struck me that I had a bowl instead of a glass. I laughed as I opened the cupboard again to get a glass. Hubby shook his head, asking where my mind was. All afternoon, the only thing I could think about was the dream donation. I forgot to send an update email to some colleagues because my mind was so caught up in thinking about the generosity of the people in my life. And now, with another dream donation having been made, I'm finding it difficult to concentrate during conversations. I see the other person's lips moving, but my mind is in the clouds, thinking about how incredibly giving my family, friends, and acquaintances are.

After lunch, we went bowling. I knew I needed to be present there, for the boys and to really have fun. I concentrated on them and focused on enjoying the time out. And I had tons of fun. Hubby and I made a bet, each of us saying what we'd like the other to do if the other lost. Nearing the end of game 2, I was twenty pins behind Hubby and figured I was going to be the loser. I was doing okay, but definitely nothing spectacular. Then frame 7 I bowled a strike. Frame 8 I bowled another strike. Frame 9 I bowled a spare. Hubby sat up at this point, taking notice that I just might pull this game out. The last frame I bowled one strike, another, then a 7. I ended with a 179. Hubby stood to take his last turn. He needed at least two strikes to beat me. It didn't happen. I don't remember the last time I've laughed as much as I did today during the last four frames of that game. It felt really, really good to laugh.

And to come out of that daze I've been walking around in, if just for a little while.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dreams Do Come True

As I was walking down the stairs at home, getting ready to go shopping, Hubby called to me, asking if I'd seen my profile at Bike the US for MS today. I replied no, to which he said, "You gotta come see this." I turned around and went back upstairs. Looking over his shoulder, I saw my total thus far at $1978. I could feel the silly grin on my face as I scanned the list to see who had made donations to get me to this amount. My grin got as big as it possibly could when I saw there'd been only one donation made--my dream donation of $378, one-tenth of my overall goal. Someone had fulfilled my dream, and that someone was our family dentist.

In just a matter of two days, I went from being at 42% of goal to being at 52%. I am now past halfway because of all the wonderful people in my life. Many, many thanks to you all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Magic Happening

More Bike the US for MS goodies arrived today, bringing out the little kid in me as I hurriedly opened the box. I had run out of stickers and had asked for more of those, but the box was too big for just stickers. When I opened the flap, I could see dark blue material. My heart leapt with joy: a Bike the US for MS sweatshirt! All I've been talking about for weeks is wanting one of these sweatshirts. Could be my angel watching over me working her magic!

Speaking of magic, yesterday an anonymous donor gave $220 towards my goal. How incredibly generous is that? When I logged into my profile to see if my amount had changed, and I saw that donation giving me an even $1500 raised thus far, I looked across the desk at Hubby and sputtered something completely unintelligible due to the shock.

When I think back over the last two months of deciding to do the ride, talking to people about it, setting up the Facebook page for it, and receiving encouragement as well as donations, the best way to describe it all is it's been magical. Complete strangers have made donations. Family has asked tons of questions about the ride. Friends have offered encouragement and support. Through it all, the word about MS is spreading, raising awareness in those who didn't know much about it.

Yeah, the magic is happening.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Ring

The day of Mom's funeral service, after we all returned to my sister's house and after we had spent a few hours eating, playing bid euchre, and reminiscing, my dad took me aside, saying he wanted me to go over to his place. I followed him into the little cabin he had built very lovingly from the ground up, wondering what was on his mind. In the bedroom, he placed Mom's jewelry box on the bed's puffy comforter and said, "Take whatever you want. Your mom wanted you to have anything you like."

For a second I stood and looked at the family photos Mom had slipped into the frames built into the jewelry box lid, one for each of her children. The smiles captured during special moments eased a bit of my sadness and I started picking up the different pieces. I knew several of the broaches had been my grandmother's, so I selected those. A couple of the bracelets came from Mom's early years following the diagnosis of the MS, when she would sit on the couch, watching the shopping channels and see something she liked. The phone was ever at the ready just in case she saw something she believed she couldn't live without. I placed those bracelets aside as well. Then I saw the ring. Her Mother's ring, the one with six birthstones signifying the birth month for each of her children. Mom loved that ring and wore it every day since the day she received it.

I picked up the ring, thinking about how only a week before I had held her hand and had adjusted the ring so all six birthstones showed clearly.

I slipped the ring onto my finger.

Throughout my days now I look at the ring and so many memories of Mom come to mind. I can see her smile. I can hear her voice. I can feel her soft cheek against mine as we hug. But it's not just Mom who comes to mind. I can see my brothers and sisters smiling. I can hear their laughter. I can feel their arms wrapped around me. Though distance may separate us, this ring keeps me connected to them.

And always connected to Mom.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Fundraising Campaign Has Begun

During break I worked on the letters to be sent out asking for donations for Bike the US for MS. I tailored each one to the specific person I was sending it to, and after much tinkering and rewording, was satisfied enough to print them off, seal them in the envelopes, and slip them in the mailbox yesterday. Now I have to wait and see what happens. I'm trying not to constantly check my fundraising total, and have declared I will only check it once a day. I have nearly five months to raise the rest of the money, so I have time, but part of me is worried I'm not going to make my goal.

Because of this worry, I've started brainstorming other ways to raise the funds. One idea struck me Saturday as I rode out to the lake. Alongside the rural roads I observed energy drink cans, pop cans, and of course beer cans (which is very scary--the only way a beer can can get into the grassy ditch is to be thrown out after it's emptied by the drinker, meaning someone is drinking and driving). This weekend, I'm planning to go back out with garbage bags and pick up the cans then take them to the recycling center. Though the return will most likely be minimal, every penny counts and in the process I'll be cleaning up our ditches.

Another thought that occurred to me is to go to one of our larger stores and ask if I can set up outside much like the Salvation Army bell ringers do during the holidays, and the Girl Scouts do when selling cookies. Maybe a table with pictures of Mom, the Bike the US for MS logo, and a jar for change will entice patrons to donate. I do think people like getting something in return, so I'm trying to come up with something connected to MS research and cycling, like a rubber bracelet with MS on it and an imprint of a bicycle. I just haven't found a place where I can get exactly what I'm envisioning.

The last idea I came up with is a cycling time trial event in April, when the weather is warming. I know of a cycle shop in town that offers time trails regularly through the summer. I was thinking of approaching the owner to see if he might be interested in scheduling a benefit time trial, with part of the proceeds going to the ride and part of the proceeds going to the top five places. This could be marketed as a way for area athletes to prepare for the upcoming sprint triathlon season which begins in late April.

Hopefully the letters will do the trick and get me to my goal so I won't have to resort to other fundraising projects. If anyone has other suggestions for raising the funds, please, pass them along. I'm open to any and all reasonable ideas. It never hurts to have a backup plan.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Angel Watching Over Me

Who knew the first week of January I'd be cycling upwards of 100 miles? That's what I call a great way to start off the year. Wednesday I got in 33, Thursday 12, Friday 19, Saturday 33, and today 23. Not a bad week at all. Unfortunately I have to report back to work tomorrow, and with that, I won't be able to get out like I did this week. The weather is supposed to take a turn, as well, so what cycling I'll be doing will be either inside on the trainer or at the rec center on the stationary bike. Unhappy face.

This week's cycling was also the first time I've cycled with a friend. I usually ride alone, so having someone there to chat with and to laugh with showed me cycling with someone can be a lot of fun. Today we rode to a cemetery then to a pub out in the middle of nowhere. We didn't go inside, but we did get a pic of my friend in front of the Bikers' Blvd sign tacked to the side of the establishment. A yellow kitty decided she wanted to be a part of the picture, jumping onto the bench just behind my friend. Silly, little things like this make for fun times and good memories.

Now it's back to the regular scheduled program of writing classes, students, papers, and grading. Funny, Delightful Son and I have agreed we both are going to try and make this a semester like no others--in a very positive, healthy way. He's going to work to keep his grades up and become more involved in his classes. I'm going to try and make my classes a place the students really, truly want to be. For me, this is going to be a challenge as most students come in with a bad attitude about writing, so I'm battling preconceived ideas. But I'm also going to be a little distracted myself with the BTUSFMS always on my mind. I know I need to strike a balance between my job and my excitement about participating in the upcoming ride.

The New Year is starting off great. Maybe my angel has something to do with this . . ..

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Joy in Creating

After a great day on the bike yesterday, I sat for awhile and made this video. Though I cried during most of the making of it, being creative and doing something for someone who means so much to me brought about much joy. The juxtaposition of sadness and joy seems to be how most of my days are right now.

The song is "Remember Me" by Bella Ruse and is available on Jamendo, under the creative commons license.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Immersing Myself in Joyful Activities

Only a few more days remain until I have to report back to work, and so far, I haven't accomplished any of the work-related tasks I wanted to complete during break. On one hand I feel like a slacker for not getting these things done. On the other hand, I've not had the gumption to work on them at all. My mind has been elsewhere. The things I truly want to do are not work related in the least, and since these things are what bring me joy at this moment in my life, I'm going to do them.

Cycling is first and foremost. Being out, feeling the cold air, seeing the bare fields, and not having anything or anyone tugging at me create a peace within that I haven't felt for awhile. Today offered up sun and enough warmth to offset the chilly wind, so I happily accepted an invitation to get out when a friend texted, asking if I was up for a ride. I'd already done 17 miles on the bike at the rec center, but there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to ride on such a beautiful day. Doing so would have been an affront to the cycling gods. I had just gotten a pair of wool socks and shoe covers that needed testing, too, so saying no to a ride invitation would have brought a curse upon the house of JK. In the end, after 16 miles of fun with a friend, my toes were still toasty warm, the cycling gods were very pleased, and so was I.

Playing with my GoPro video camera is another activity that is bringing me a lot of pleasure. I've always enjoyed videography and putting a clip together, especially with music. Being able to combine the cycling with the videography makes for a double whammy for me. Talk about being in heaven! The downside is a lot of time spent wasting away hours on the computer when I could be doing other things . . . like prepping for my spring classes. In the back of my mind is the fact that I've taught the classes so much that I could do it blind-folded and with both arms tied behind my back, so I justify my time creating little clips by saying, "No sweat. It'll get done." I know all the prep work will be finished before the start of classes, but it'll be very last minute and I'll be kicking myself for waiting til the 11th hour.

Joyful activities should be on order every day for everyone. They are what make the tedious chores of our lives sufferable.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

An Angel in My Corner

2011 was the year I wanted to improve as an athlete. Being a 47 year old mom way past her prime, I knew improving as an athlete meant competing against myself. Going in with the attitude that I just wanted to shave minutes off my previous sprint tri time helped me focus on my weak areas and put time into those, which meant mostly the swimming and the running.  2010 was the year for my first sprint tri, so an easy goal to set was to improve upon the time I'd achieved for that one and only attempt. 2010 was also the year I began cycling longer distances, and by the end of October, I knew I wanted to continue cycling, but on a better bike. While I enjoy swimming and can tolerate the running, I learned cycling is where my heart is.

I was determined, though, to give the sprint tri another go to see if I could improve, and I did: 3 times. The time I posted for my very first sprint tri was 1:43. In 2011, I really wanted to shave 15 minutes off. I wasn't sure if I could do this as I'm a slow, slow runner. I figured I could shave off a couple minutes in the swim, and I was gunning for shaving off 10 minutes on the bike, but at the back of my mind swirled the fear of the run. When I crossed the finish line for the event, I checked my watch and saw 1:28. I'd done it, just barely: 15 minutes off my previous sprint tri time.

Two weeks later I was participating in another sprint tri. Could I take more minutes off my best time? I was hoping for shaving another minute or two. I finished this tri at 1:22. Six more minutes? Seriously? And with that huge hill at the end of the 5k that I mostly walked? I was floating afterward, and no one could take the grin off my face when I heard my name called for second place in my age group.

Two weeks later I was participating in yet another sprint tri, the place where my sprint tri days all began in 2010. My goal was to finish faster than I had the year before, and I did, shaving off 20 minutes from my previous year's time. Where in 2010 I wasn't in the top five in my age group, in 2011 I placed second.

With three sprint tri's under my belt by May 1st, I decided I'd accomplished what I set out to do and turned my attention to cycling. I set a goal of completing three century rides. The first was in June, and when I crossed the finish line, I had a tough time keeping the tears in check. While I'd been cycling 35, 40, and 60 miles before doing the century, I didn't realize just how much more difficult 100 miles was going to be. The last 15 miles of the ride I just wanted to quit. The combination of rolling hills and a pretty good headwind made for a painful ride. I kept on, though. If there one thing I'm not that's a quitter.

After my first century, I upped my mileage, cycling nearly every day, going anywhere from 50-80 miles a day. My family very quickly got used to me leaving out at 5 a.m. and returning around 11 or noon. I even cycled from my home to my parents' home a State away, 133 miles. By my second century attempt, I was prepared much better both emotionally and physically. I finished up my century rides by completing my last with an average speed of 17 mph, cycling alone. When a member of a peloton comes up to you after a ride and pats you on the back for doing so well and doing it alone, that's a real compliment.

All in all, 2011 was a good year for me athletically. I accomplished all of my goals and am very happy about doing so. And though 2011 ended on an extremely sad note with Mom's death just before Christmas, I've set my sights on summer 2012, the Bike the US for MS ride, my gift to Mom and all those who are fighting multiple sclerosis. I'm determined to use these next five months to get into "fighting shape." Swimming, running, cycling, and weights are in my immediate future. A serious, controlled diet is planned, but when you live with others who aren't on the same page when it comes to what's considered healthful, staying on track can be difficult. I know I have an angel in my corner, though, and with her help I'm going to make 2012 my best year yet.