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.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Along the I&M Canal

Spent a wonderful day on the I&M Canal path. Hubby and I started out from LaSalle and rode to Ottawa where we had lunch at an ice cream shop. Because my tooth/gum issue has reared its ugly head again, I stuck with a vanilla milkshake. Hubby had a decked out hotdog and onion rings. We then headed back to LaSalle. We hadn't gone more than a quarter mile when we saw a cheese/deli shop. The promise of fudge spurred us to turn off and check out the place. Unfortunately the fudge was gone, but Hubby was able to get some farmer's cheese, and I found a coffee I wanted to try. We started out again, making our way back to Utica where we found a candy/fudge shop. We left with a quarter pound each of peanut butter chocolate fudge, Belgian chocolate fudge, cheesecake fudge, and toffee chocolate fudge. Hubby felt drawn to try out the chocolate covered bacon but couldn't bring himself to actually buy a strip and follow through. From there we cycled back to LaSalle, passing the locks no longer in use.

The entire ride we just ambled. No hurry. Enjoying the ruins of the canal, the bridges no longer in use, the tree lined path, the swamps on both sides, the quiet, a white heron, a bull frog with just its eyes above the water of the canal as if it was peeking out at the world (I think snapping a pic of the frog would have given me the pic of the day, but I didn't stop and didn't turn around to try and get it. Next time, if there is a next time, I will stop.).

After the ride, we went to a bike shop, the kind of shop I wish I could visit and hang out in every single day. In addition to the bikes, the gear, and the accessories, this shop had bike artwork. I wandered around the store, admiring the different sculptures and functional furniture created from bike parts. Perhaps this was one reason I walked out with a new mountain bike. Not only was it obvious the owner loved selling bikes and all things connected to cycling, but he also loved creating art from recycled bike parts, breathing new life into old bike parts and pieces.

Now I look forward to riding my new bike on the I&M, going farther, finding new haunts, and stopping for the small things, like bull frog eyes peering out at the world going by.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Question of Heart Rate

Another obsession is brewing. Like I don't have enough obsessions already: cycling for hours on end, eyeing the calories burned number on the Garmin, keeping the speed over 17 mph . . .. Now I'm all ga-ga over heart rate. I had an idea that heart rate is directly connected to calories burned, and calories burned are directly connected to pounds lost, and pounds lost are directly connected to my happiness. So I began reading anything and everything about heart rate, how to use it to keep the pounds off. During my reading, I came across aerobic vs. anaerobic and became all confused. I get the idea of aerobic. Aerobic is the fat burning stage. This is pretty much what my entire summer ride consisted of. Long, slow distances (LSD), hence losing 12 pounds in two months. The anaerobic, though, throws me because if I'm understanding it correctly, this is a level you don't want to reach often as it burns carbohydrates rather than fat. But the anaerobic level is necessary to build stamina, speed, and economy. I want to achieve both fat loss and stamina, speed, and economy. Is there a training plan that will help me see improvements in these four areas?

Part of my fat issue is my age. I've reached an age that for women (I really should just speak for myself) makes losing fat more difficult. However, putting the fat on is incredibly easy. All I have to do is look at a donut and I've gained a pound. Before leaving for BTUSFMS I was cycling every day, upwards of three hours, burning anywhere from 1500-2000 calories a ride. One week I gained two pounds. The next week I gained three pounds. I was tracking my food intake, being careful with my nutrition, and I was never eating more than 2000 calories a day. The weight gain frustrated me tremendously. During BTUSFMS I ate pretty much whatever I wanted, not counting calories at all. I lost weight without even trying.

Now that I'm back and pretty much into the same routine I was in before BTUSFMS, I'm terrified I'm going to gain the weight back. With work and daylight giving way to darkness earlier and earlier each day, I can't ride every day for four to six hours, so the long, slow rides have been cut way back. And the eating whatever I want doesn't make sense because I'm not cycling as long each day, meaning the amount of calories burned is much lower. What a vicious cycle.

My quest now is to see if I can use the heart rate monitor to keep the weight off. I kept reading anything and everything I could find about heart rate, finally coming across a book that promised to spell out very clearly, for dummies like me, the whole heart rate matter. I bought the book, read it, and will follow one of the plans laid out for a cyclist. I'll have one bike on the trainer inside, using it for rainy days and days when the only time I can ride is after dark. I'll keep my bike at the ready for the days I can get outside. The plan will take me into December, and at that time, I'll share the results.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Very Cool Gift

During my 100 mile ride today, the coolest thing happened. I was pedaling along, thinking about how I need to get to work on my manuscript and get it finished up once and for all. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shadow on the road. Initially the shape of it brought to mind the orange flags that cyclists used to use years ago. I turned to look, thinking I would see a cyclist passing me. Instead of a cyclist, I saw a large bird flying alongside, right at shoulder level. For nearly 20 yards or so, the bird glided, its wings spread so I could see the white and black pattern on the underside of its feathers, and the black stripes on its body. It then looked at me, flew ahead and across my path, and up to sit on a utility pole. Initially I thought the bird was a hawk, but after returning home and looking up the different types of birds of prey, I found what I think the bird truly was: an American kestrel.

As I pedaled on, I marveled over the bird flying alongside. I see it as a very cool gift, one that I will treasure forever.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Perfect Day

Great Blue Heron

This morning dawned much cooler than what we've been experiencing the last two weeks. With all the windows open, the bedroom was very chilly, and I had to pull the summer quilt tightly around me to find some warmth. Part of me wanted to get up and ride, but being snuggled under the quilt, still sleepy after a night of hearing several parades of college students walking by between midnight and 3 am, loud and obnoxious, I drifted in and out of snoozing for over an hour. The thought of french toast spurred me to get up and start the day.

After breakfast and a quick run to a bike sale in the alley behind some guy's house (still no mountain bike), I finally pulled on the shorts and jersey to set off. Hubby had agreed to meet me up at the lake and ride around it with me, so I started off only to find myself heading straight into a stiff wind. With the cooler temps came the wind, and I felt like I was right back in March when I was prepping for BTUSFMS. Every day I fought the wind. Looking at my rides from March and April, my average speeds were in the 14's and 15's. Today, despite the headwind, I averaged 16.4. Not gonna lie--I'm happy with that.

Riding around the lake with Hubby, we went slow and easy. No reason to hurry on such a beautiful day. At the east side of the lake, we saw several Great Blue Herons, beautiful and graceful creatures. Once home, I downed a glass of cold chocolate milk, thinking yeah, today is a perfect day.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Learning to Listen

After last Thursday's ride, a 55 miler that going into I was so tired and didn't really feel like doing but did because I didn't want to sit around the house all afternoon, I took Friday and Sunday off. Saturday's ride was just a slow, short ride on the trail, with some students who had joined the new cycling club at school, so I didn't put much effort in and didn't feel much effect from it. Because of the long weekend, I slept in each morning, went to bed early, and lazed around, reading or watching TV. By this morning, I could feel my body bouncing back, ready to get out and do that 55 miler again. I only did 50, an out and back, and I made my goal of 17 mph for the first 40 miles. The final 10 miles were slow and easy. All of it felt great again, rather than as if I was slogging through pedal stroke after pedal stroke.

I don't like to admit when I'm tired and need a break, but I've realized I'm only going to create more problems if I don't listen to my body. I've been cycling nearly every day since April, with a day off every ten days or so. While I've cut back on the mileage since finishing BTUSFMS, I've still been averaging around 40 miles a day. Fatigue was bound to catch up with me sooner or later. It caught me last Thursday, wrapping its tendrils around my entire body, but I didn't listen. Instead, I went out into 90 degree heat, pedaling west into the sun, having to stop and take breaks every 12 miles or so, and feeling no joy at being on the bike. When I got home, I fell asleep on the couch before 8:30, stumbled up to bed when Hubby roused me around 9:30, and promptly fell asleep as soon as I stretched out on the bed. The next morning, the moment Angel Baby walked out the door to set off to school, I was back in bed for another two hours of sleep. Ummmm, yes, I think I was tired.

I've been very fortunate with my health. No aches. No pains. No injuries. To stay this way, I better start listening a little better when fatigue whispers in my ear.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Box of Letters

Before I set out for my cross-country cycling adventure, my dad gave me a cardboard box. We were sitting in the living room of the little cabin he had built, where when we'd go visit, we'd walk in and see Mom sitting on the loveseat, surrounded by her magazines, books, paper, and pens. I opened the box to find several rubberbanded stacks of letters written by my mom to her parents, my grandparents. On top of the first stack was a sticky note, and in Dad's precise engineering handwriting I saw '79, '80, and so on, all the way to '86. He had painstakingly gone through all of the letters, putting them into order by year. Several more rubberbanded stacks of letters were labeled the same way underneath the first stack. As I stared at the letter on top, at Mom's clear and elegant handwriting, I wondered how many tears Dad shed while reading through the hundreds of letters. I closed the lid on the box. I would wait until we got home to begin reading them.

The next day I stood at the kitchen counter, the box open in front of me. I began reading the first letter written on March 17, 1979. Mom had noted just under the date that it was Saturday. I got as far as "Dear Mom n' Dad" before the tears started falling. I kept going, but the farther I got into the letter, the less I could see. Hubby walked into the kitchen then took one look at my face and suggested I put the letters away for awhile, until after the ride even. Maybe by then, he said, I'd feel some peace and be able to read the letters. So I arranged the letters back in the box and closed the lid. Hubby took it upstairs and placed it on top of bookshelves where I could see it, know the letters were waiting for me.

This evening, I pulled the box down. I read through the first letter, the second letter, and began the third. Rather than feeling the sadness I felt a few months ago, I felt a joy at being able to hear my mom's voice, see her face, and remember the moments she shared with my grandparents in her lengthy letters. With her words I was transported back to a time I haven't thought about in many years: feeling the brisk March days in Indiana, seeing the puppy my brother brought home, and telling my mom how pretty she looked in the new red blouse she'd bought for her first day at a new job. My mom is still very much with me, just as she was all summer.

At the end of one letter, after being at her new job for several months, Mom wrote, "Question of the day--what am I doing here, when I could be home by the fire, reading a good book?" I had to smile at this as ever since returning to work this semester, I have asked every single day, "What am I doing here?"