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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kicking Bad Habits

In March of this year, Funny Delightful Son signed up for track, wanting to have something to do that included some exercise as well as being with his friends. He's never been a runner, so he went for the field events: shot put and discus. At the time, he was weighing in at around 225 pounds, which helps when throwing shot put and discus. However, Funny Delightful Son was unhappy with his weight and had been unhappy with his weight for several years. As a fourth grader, he stood a head taller than his classmates, and he outweighed them by quite a bit. Where his classmates were the typical thin pre-teen boys, he wasn't, and he got teased by it. The teasing spurred him to constantly round his shoulders as if he was trying to minimize how much space he took up. He started to wear t-shirts beneath button-down shirts or sweatshirts to hide his shape. I regularly encouraged him to stand tall, put his shoulders back, but he seemed only to sink further into himself. I hated seeing this happen to him, and the only thing I could do was continue to tell him that one day his metabolism would kick in, do what it was supposed to do.

And it did. And it has. Where in March Funny Delightful Son was weighing in at 225 pounds, now he is around 165, maybe 170 tops. He has gone from having a 36 inch waist to a 31 inch waist. Initially I was very concerned with the rapid weight loss, nearly 40 pounds between March and June. While he was working out with the track team, he wasn't doing extensive cardio or lifting that would promote this kind of loss. What I didn't know at the time was he had stopped eating sweets. No cookies. No candy. No cake. Nothing sweet crossed his lips. Still, he won't eat anything remotely sweet. Including soda. He gave up the soda not long after giving up the sweets. Now, Funny Delightful Son stands tall. Now, Funny Delightful Son smiles and laughs all the time. Now, Funny Delightful Son loves to go shopping for clothes. He even joined the swim team, not at all intimidated by allowing people see him in just a swimsuit.

His dedication to giving up sweets has been inspirational to me. I love chocolate cake with white icing. I love oatmeal raisin cookies. Thinking of not eating these makes me so sad. And soda? What? An ice cold cola on a hot day is akin to heaven for me. But after seeing all the health benefits Funny Delightful Son is experiencing after committing to not consuming these, I've decided to follow suit. I knew I had to do it in steps, though, or I was going to fail. My plan was to start with caffeine, which meant I had to give up not only coffee but also colas. I went cold turkey with that in October. I was still drinking sodas, just not any with caffeine. A little over a month into no caffeine, I gave up all sodas. After reading about the amount of sugar in one can of soda (8 teaspoons), I said enough. Now that I'm almost a month into no sodas, I'm ready to nix the rest of the sweets. I've created the foundation, and now it's time to build upon it. Slowly. With determination. And it's definitely entertaining having Funny Delightful Son supporting me in kicking my bad habits.

With steps one and two well underway, I started step three last week: exercise. When Funny Delightful Son took up swimming (only to be put on the diving team), he found running stairs, planks, and lots of sit-ups were part of the deal. Now he's seeing muscle definition happening, especially in the abs. Every day I'm subjected to him pulling his shirt up and rubbing his abs, a smirk gracing his face. I thought since he's seeing such awesome results with the whole no sugar combined with regular exercise, I might, too (wishful thinking for a nearly 50, menopausal woman!). So I set up the bike on the trainer last week and have begun spinning. I'm only going a half hour right now, but it's a start. Something is better than nothing, right? I have no goals in mind other than to just spin each day for at least a half hour.

Where I used to be the only one in the house who worried about consuming bad-for-me foods, I now have an ally who is supportive and encouraging. It's way more fun giving things up with someone than it is alone.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Brightly Colored Happiness

There's just something truly satisfying about working with wool roving and soap. I think it's the patience factor--wrapping the soap takes patience, allowing the wool to dry takes patience, and creating the decorative image takes patience. Being forced to slow down, to not rush through the process is akin to how to live a full life: slowly, savoring it, examining it carefully along the way.

As I was working on the three pieces of felted soap this morning, my thoughts turned to my mom. Today marks two years since her death. I think about Mom nearly every day, but my thoughts have been full of her since November, the anniversary for her collapse and subsequent health decline. I didn't fully realize how sad I was feeling during the last few weeks until a friend messaged me via FB, saying she was thinking about me and hoping I was doing okay. The tears came so easily when I read her note, and I finally let them have free rein. Giving in to the sadness felt good, cleansing. Maybe that's another reason I'm so enjoying working with the felted soaps--creating a beautiful  as well as a happy way to cleanse oneself.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

From Infused Salt to Felted Soap

Want to feel like a kid? Get a bar of soap and some wool roving and you're on your way.

I'd never heard of felted soap until a student wrote about conducting a 4-H workshop on how to felt soap. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I turned to the internet to find out. After reading a couple of how-to's and examining some pictures, I knew this was an activity I really wanted to take part in. Being the anti-washcloth, anti-sponge person that I am, felted soap is exactly what I've been pining away for most of my life. Why it took me so long to learn of this amazing product is a mystery.

Once I decide to do something, nothing will stop me following through. I knew I had a couple soap bars languishing on the closet shelf, so that part was easy. After reading many of the how-to's, though, I knew I had no wool roving. Some of the articles suggested using wool yarn. I don't even have that around. Some suggested using an old wool sweater. I don't own a wool sweater, and even if I did, I probably wouldn't cut it up to make felted soap. So, after some thought, I pulled on the thermal leggings, a pair of jeans, two pair of socks, a sweater, my wool scarf (gasp! I have a wool scarf . . . . but I can't cut it up), boots, coat, hat, and mittens and set off for the thrift store.

I knew the walk would be difficult. Our town doesn't shovel sidewalks, which made me furious with each step. Some homeowners did clear the walk in front of their homes, but many haven't, making walking anywhere around here labor intensive. I finally said screw it and walked in the street. The whole motorist centric thinking really gets me going, but that's a discussion for another time.

So I made it to the thrift store. While there, I found bright green virgin wool yarn and some wool socks. I threw in some knitting needles just in case I decide to try and knit (which I was told by Funny Delightful Son is a sign that I am now officially old) and a knitted hat since one cannot have too many winter hats. All of this came to less than $10. The wool socks alone are worth more than $10 because they kept my feet toasty warm all evening. I won't be using them for any crafts project.

After I returned home, I sat and unraveled the yarn for an hour or so. At the rate I was going, getting enough wool to wrap the bar of soap would take a couple of days. I'm not that patient. I ended up going to the hobby store and buying some wool roving. Looks like the yarn just might end up being used for knitting after all.

In the end, I created two felted soap bars. They're not the best, but I'm pretty sure they'll get the job done, freeing me from having to use a wash cloth. Plus, I know I have more bars of soap stuffed in the back of drawers, and I'm eager to make some designs with the wool roving, so there will definitely be more felted soapmaking happening over the next few weeks.

Felted soap

Monday, December 16, 2013

Inside Projects

The end of the semester brought snow our way, nearly six inches. The boys were unhappy the snow began falling Friday evening and continued overnight, into Saturday. They'd like to see a snow day happen soon. I'm happy to see it. Puts me in the holiday spirit and gives me an excuse to stay inside to work on projects for the house. Like infused salts. And a sugar scrub.

Sugar scrub, dried thyme, infused salts
I have lots of herbs from my garden, so I did some research and found making infused salts is actually quite easy. Why go buy a jar when I can do it myself? I went the route of citrus infused salt and rosemary infused salt. My plan is to combine some rosemary and thyme for another batch sometime this week. I'm out of the little jars with cork stoppers, so I'll have to get a few more of those, maybe see if the thrift store has any on its shelves.

The jelly jar is my sugar scrub. I'm looking forward to using it in the shower today. I read lots of articles about making sugar scrubs and how they make the skin feel really soft. With our dry air right now, my skin is begging for some moisture. I used olive oil for this scrub, hoping the oil will be just the moisture I need. I'm thinking I might try other oils to see how they work, just for giggles.

The only dilemma I ran into while making the salts was how to get the citrus zest in smaller pieces and how to grind the rosemary. I tried the food processor. Epic fail. I tried the blender. Fail. Then it occurred to me that I still had the coffee grinder in the garage. Since I no longer drink coffee, I had set it out there for our garage sale we had in August. While I was sitting at said garage sale, I was reading an article online about using a coffee grinder to blend together herbs. I quickly grabbed the coffee grinder and set it aside, thinking I would be able to use it for other things besides grinding coffee beans. Turns out, it works great for herbs. Problem solved.

Now I'm trying to find a recipe for dinner tonight, one that I can use one of my infused salts in. I'm definitely going to do mashed cauliflower. I'm thinking the rosemary infused salt will work great with the mashed cauliflower.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Letting Go of Attachments

Every day, when I sit down to have breakfast, I do two things: turn on the weather channel to see what's going on outside even though I can look out the picture window of the dining room and see exactly what's going on, and read the daily quote offered from the Dalai Lama to start my day on a positive note. Many times, after I've read the daily quote, I think about what I read throughout the day and even days later. Yesterday's quote was one that resonated with me, and I'm finding one idea from the quote is randomly popping into my thoughts: letting go of attachments.

Last week, during final conferences with students, I was realizing how attached I am to what I believe is A writing, B writing, C writing, etc. While I don't want to simply pass a student for being a warm body that has attended class all semester, I do want to let go of the attachments I have to the criteria I've always used to assign final grades. Every time I go into a student paper, the criteria is constantly at the forefront, creating a barrier between me and the student and even a barrier between me and what the writing itself. Most often the barrier carries negative feelings with it, further hindering the overall experience of reading what the student has written. Instead of really reading each word, taking in the ideas, I search for what's "wrong" with the paper in order to come up with a grade. I've reached a point where I believe the criteria hinder the conversation about good, effective writing. I want to let go of my attachment to the criteria, but I wonder how I can and still be completely fair and honest with my students.

Over the years my teaching has evolved in such a way that I try to be as completely transparent as possible with my students when it comes to what my thoughts are concerning their writing. I conference with students one-on-one three times during the semester, and during these conferences we discuss their work. I'll read the paper right there in front of the student, which I've been told is quite nerve-wracking, then begin asking questions about the course concepts and how the student has applied them to his/her writing. Most often, the conversation that develops is one in which the students get a sense of what's happening with their writing and how I, as the reader, am reacting to the writing. I've had more fruitful, satisfying conversations about writing with this process than I ever did when simply reading the papers, marking the papers, then handing back the papers. Most often the students leave my office knowing exactly what's working, what's not, and how to improve upon what they have written.

At the end of the final conference, we work through what their final grade should be by examining the final drafts of their papers as well as everything else connected to the class, including attitude. One young lady this semester was less than happy with the C we came to after our discussion but agreed it was appropriate given her absences and inattention to class work. While she really wanted a B, she accepted the grade because as she put it, "I screwed myself." I try to help this kind of student see what a shame it is the grade isn't truly reflective of her writing abilities. This young woman's final draft was very powerful, definitely A quality, but because of her attitude/behavior, what will show on her grades transcript is that she is simply an average writing student. We talked a bit about why she let this happen, so maybe . . . maybe . . . she'll think about this situation in the semesters to come and not allow herself to slip.

What to do about the criteria is something I'll continue to think about. I have a couple of books to read over break, books that I'm hoping will give me some ideas to consider and maybe even weave into my teaching process. With today's weather forecast being a winter weather advisory indicating possible ice with 4-6 inches of snow following, I'm going to get the fire going, snuggle up on the couch, and enjoy my reading.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Well, Hello December

The older I get the more precious time becomes. Every single minute holds a value far beyond what I can wrap my brain around. When I see the "100 Places You Should Visit Before You Die" and realize I've only visited 14, I feel the urge to pack my bags and get going, or I'll miss out. At the same time, I just want to sit on the back deck steps and watch the sparrows flying in to the bird feeder. I'm completely in love with the idea of slowing down, just standing still, and taking in all that is right here around me. This back and forth pull gets tiresome. I am, however, noticing I'm leaning far more in the direction of slowing down, and I'm finding I'm truly very happy right where I am.

And now December is upon us, a month of hustle, bustle, and generally overdoing everything. Several years ago, I decided I didn't want to be a part of the holiday madness any longer. No big decorating (much to Lovely Beautiful Daughter's dismay, though I'll let her do as much as she wants to do), no tons of presents (just one "I really, really, really want this" for each of us), and no going out for anything Christmas Eve or Christmas day (which meant no more going to Mass). I've not once regretted making these changes. If anything, we've been able to focus more on family and being together because we're not distracted by the season's madness.

This past week, I watched some family and friends get caught up in the Thanksgiving madness, and when it was all done, a couple were so stressed out they could barely function. I feel sad for these individuals. I hope they find peace. A part of me, too, wonders why they allow themselves to feel like they have to put on a show, go the route of "keeping up with the Jones'." We all have the choice to say, "No. I am not going to allow societal pressures to make me feel inadequate." If others don't like us taking a stand against the pressure, that's their problem. That time spent worrying and obsessing over what others will think if the turkey isn't perfect or if the house isn't Martha Stewart approved is time lost, time that can never, ever be gotten back.

I spent my week working in my shop, cleaning up my fruit garden, and building a greenhouse. With Hubby's help, I was able to create a few new items for the next arts/crafts show I'll be attending in a week. Then, after reading up on pruning grapevines, I went to work on my two vines and got them squared away. And yesterday, with the temps in the 50's, I built a greenhouse to see if I can get some lettuce to grow. It's mostly an experiment, just to see if I can actually get something to grow through the winter, so we'll see what happens. I poked my head inside the greenhouse this morning, and because the temps are again in the 50's, inside the greenhouse was toasty warm.

So here's to December. May the last month of the year bring much joy, laughter, and maybe even some lettuce.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The End of a Long-Term Work Project, The Beginning of New, Personal Creative Projects

For the past two years, I've been helping put into place a regional English teacher conference hosted by the writing program at my college. I was in charge of, well, a lot. For the past month, I've not slept well as my mind was constantly going over every little detail. This week, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I barely slept at all with the conference finally being here and having to make sure all went smoothly. By 11 pm last night, after my two boys arrived home from their Homecoming dance, I put my head down on my pillow and let out a deep breath. I think I was out within seconds. For the first night in a long time, I slept. Then I slept more today. Around 4 this afternoon, I started feeling more rested, far more rested than I have in quite some time.

The conference went well, with just a few minor hiccups along the way, nothing that couldn't be resolved quickly and fairly easily. Two young men from my college's IT department acted as our on-site tech help, and they were absolutely awesome. My colleagues volunteered their time to come to the conference center and help with anything and everything asked of them. I was reminded again and again what wonderful people I work with. In the end, I heard no complaints from anyone attending the conference; I only heard positive, happy comments.

Now I can turn my attention back to other interests, like cycling, writing, and creating fun art pieces. I'm excited. I don't know where to start. Maybe this blog post is the start. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Distractions

Homemade Apple Butter
I'm supposed to be reading/responding to student papers, but instead, I'm doing all kinds of other things. Like making apple butter. And cutting out the raspberry vines. And researching having backyard chickens in town. I was hoping to have all the papers responded to by late this evening, but at this point, I'll be lucky to have one section of the four completed. With each semester, I'm finding it harder and harder to make myself sit for any length of time to read student work.

I had every intention of getting up early this morning to get started on the papers. I did get up at a reasonable hour. It was before 8 am, and for a Sunday, that's early for me. I fixed myself an egg white omelet along with some bacon and coffee, and read a new book while I ate. I figured I'd start in on the work after I finished breakfast. Instead, all I kept thinking about was the apple trees laden with lovely red apples we'd come across on a piece of property for sale not far from town. No one is living on the property as the house isn't even suitable for pigs to live in, so I said to Hubby, "Let's go pick some apples." We loaded up the ladder and set off.

This piece of property is about three acres, with a pole barn and another smaller, older barn that has three stalls inside. I can very easily envision having chickens, a couple of sheep, and maybe a goat. One part of the property is perfect for a large garden. There's the two mature apple trees as well as two mature pear trees. Though the house is a tear-down, I wouldn't mind living in a mobile home while we build exactly what we've always talked about having. Of all the properties we've seen over the years of my dreaming of moving to the country, this piece really does offer exactly what I've always yearned for. I was thinking this morning, after picking the apples (and no, I didn't call the owner for permission; I probably should have, but it was pretty obvious no one was picking them given the amount of apples covering the ground under the trees), that perhaps we could buy the property and make it our "vacation" spot during the next few years. We could pitch a tent every weekend and enjoy being there, cleaning it up, and prepping it for the house we want to build. Hubby doesn't think this is feasible. Yet, he is the one who took me to see it several weeks ago, saying, "I'm trying to buy you your house in the country." And now, now that I am really into it and can see a way to make this happen, he's suddenly stepping back, saying, "There's no way we can do this." Huh?!? Frankly, I think it was kind of mean of him to take me to see it in the first place. But I am glad to have found the apples.

So, now that I'm having to come down out of the clouds and back to the reality of living in town, I'm researching owning chickens within the city limits (it's illegal right now, but I'm going to see about getting this back in front of the city council) and planning more gardening through the fall and winter months. Both of these things are not helping me read/respond to student papers. I know, though, that my work will get done. It always does.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This and That

Seems like I haven't written in quite some time. That's not to say I haven't thought about writing a blog post. I have. Nearly every day. But I just couldn't bring myself to sit down and write. I sound like so many of my students. So, taking the advice I always give to students who lament not knowing how to start a paper, I'm just going to write. The post will be a hodge-podge, so if you stopped by for something eloquent and insightful, you might be disappointed. Or not.

Back into the swing of things at work, and this semester I'm trying something new. For years, I followed what could be considered a fairly typical approach to teaching: creating a calendar with exercises and longer assignments listed, their due dates, and all students doing these exercises and assignments. If a student didn't do the exercise or assignment for a given due date, he/she couldn't make it up. The points were just lost. This semester, I still have a calendar with exercises listed, along with their due dates. The students, though, get to choose which exercises they want to do and which exercises they don't want to complete. For each concept I want to cover, I created two exercises: one that is involved and takes quite a bit of time to complete, and one that is not as involved. The more demanding exercise is worth quite a few more points than its shorter, less demanding twin. Students can examine each before deciding which one to complete. The goal is for each student to make his/her decision based on what he/she believes best suits him/her. So far, the feedback from the students has been positive. They like being able to decide which exercise to invest their time in. This week, the students had the option of meeting with me for a one-on-one conference, and as of today, the majority made the decision to come to my office, sit with me for 10 minutes or longer, and just chat about their work to this point in the semester. I've been pleasantly surprised at how many students took me up on the "optional" conference.

Before the new saddle, grips, rear rack, and lights
Recently I added to my bike fleet. For some time, I've been looking for a vintage town-type bike. I finally found one, a Raleigh Sport 3-Speed. The bike I actually went to see was a mixte, but when I rode it, I knew it wasn't going to work for me. It was too small for one, and I really wanted a step-through so I could wear dresses or skirts while riding. The guy selling the mixte had a yard full of all kinds of bikes, mostly older ten speeds. Amongst them I found the Raleigh. I rode it and fell in love. After convincing the guy to lower the price, I loaded my new love into the back of the truck and brought her home. I have since put a new Brooks saddle on her along with Brooks grips, a rear rack, front light, and rear light. She's one classy lady. And a smooth ride.

Lots of creating has been going on in my shop. I signed up for an arts/crafts show that will take place in November, so I've been busy working on having things for my booth. I had to come up with a name for said booth, and after much consideration, I decided upon The Happy Cyclepath. My hope is that people will be amused by the name enough to buy one of my pieces. I definitely have a lot of work to do, but I'm enjoying the process. I made a wind chime out of cassette gears and a brake cable; the chime it creates is lovely. I hope to make several of these, maybe adding one or two gears with stained glass in the center to each. I invested in stained glass materials and started practicing this evening, so hopefully in two months' time the results will be "good enough" to offer in the booth. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head for pieces I want to create that I've begun writing down descriptions and sometimes even sketching out what I'm aiming for. I really want my booth to be awesome.

I'm still getting a lot of tomatoes from the garden. And peppers. Peppers galore. This two-week heat wave we've been suffering through has kept everything growing and producing nicely. I even had another round of red raspberries much to my surprise. I know soon I'll have to clean up the gardens and bed them down for the winter, but for now, I'm happy to still be picking produce.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Flower Pedal

My first welding project. I've dubbed it "Flower Pedal" and it is soon to be on it's way to the art show. Hubby and I will drive down in just a bit to drop it off. I'm nervous. Will it stack up against the other artwork? Will someone like it enough to buy it? I'm determined to just go with the flow and whatever happens happens. For my first piece, it's not all bad. I learned a lot. I became really comfortable with handling the welding rod, and I overcame my fear of the sparks flying. Lots of positives came from creating this piece.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Beautiful August Sunday

I know I've written several times this summer about what a wonderful summer I've been having, and with today being the last day of no worries, sitting on the deck in the early morning sunshine, reading, picking tomatoes from my garden, and generally just doing whatever strikes my fancy, I'm still enjoying all things that are summer. The weather couldn't be more perfect--low 70's with a slight breeze. The zinnias around the deck--magenta, orange, yellow, and pink--add so much color. In fact, our entire yard is so colorful that people stopping at our yard sale the last two days commented on how pretty everything is. A friend recently told me she loves how I've surrounded my family in beauty, and as I sit here watching the goldfinches feast on the sunflowers, these little things definitely add beauty to enjoy every moment of every day.

Along with all the gardening this summer, we've done a lot of cleaning and throwing away. Too much throwing away. I started in the downstairs closet and went from there, getting rid of things we didn't use, didn't want, forgot we even had. We ended our cleaning this past week with giving our attention to the abomination that is our garage. This morning, as we hung the last bike in such a way as to allow for better, easier use of the treadmill and the weight bench, we stood back and admired our work. Angel Baby came in when we were finishing up and said, "Wow, I didn't know we had this much space in the garage." While I love all the neatness that has happened from our cleaning, I don't love seeing all the stuff we've thrown away. Such a waste. The upside is we did take a lot to Goodwill, and we were able to sell quite a bit in the yard sale, but from now on, I will think long and hard before buying anything.

Tomorrow I return to work. I've decided to take it one day at a time and try to find the pleasure in teaching that I once had. I know it's still a part of me; I just need to allow myself to feel it, cultivate it, and share it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Old Painter's Ladder

Monday evenings is put trash on the curb evenings in our city. And because I'm a fan of treasure hunting, I either walk the streets (sounds racy, doesn't it), ride my bike, or have Hubby drive me around to see what treasures await me finding them and bringing them home. This week, Hubby and I went out, going to an older neighborhood to drive the streets. Unfortunately, we came up with zip. We returned home, and I started out for what I was hoping to be a six mile walk. Less than a mile in, I spied a pile of junk on a side street, so I veered that way to inspect. As I approached, I saw what I knew was the top step of a ladder. A wooden ladder. I'd been searching for a wooden ladder for months, wanting one to put in the garden for the pole beans (which turned out to be bush beans) to climb. The ladders I found in antique stores were marked well over $100, and I wasn't about to pay that. Online, the ladders went anywhere from $50 up to $200. Me being the cheapskate that I am, was holding out. Lo and behold, my holding out paid off. There in front of me was the ladder I'd been dreaming of finding, underneath two lamps with tattered gold lampshades. I pulled the ladder out, my excitement growing with each detail I noticed--metal rods underneath each step, the wooden center handle, and some original bolts still holding the steps in place. A few bolts had been replaced, but the replacements had aged and suited the ladder. The paint splatter all over the ladder made me smile, and I wondered who had used it, what rooms had been painted with this ladder's help. My amusement over the ladder was short-lived, however, when I realized I was too far from home to carry the ladder back, and I didn't have my phone on me to call Hubby. And other trash pickers were out, searching for the very same treasures I was; I'd seen them pass by when I'd started my walk. My only option was to bury the ladder beneath as much trash as I could, walk home, and return with Hubby. So that's what I did. I took the two lamps and some other trash and covered the ladder, being sure to hide the top step which had caught my attention in the first place. Then I raced home, all the while fearing the other trash pickers would realize my attempt to hide this beautiful find and take it before I returned. When I ran into the living room and told Hubby we had to go, come on, quick before the treasure is taken, he laughed and followed me out to the truck. Thankfully, he understood the magnitude of the situation and punched the gas pedal, getting us moving quickly down our quiet street. We arrived back at the scene of the treasure ladder to find it still tucked nicely under the lamps and other household trash. I carefully removed the lamps and lifted the ladder, placing it in the back of the truck.

The ladder now graces a spot in my garden where next summer the pole beans will wind their way all over the lovely, paint-splattered steps.

Monday, August 5, 2013

My Slow Life Movement

For the last month I've been asking Mother Nature to grace us with a beautiful day for our garden harvest party evening. That day came yesterday, and we couldn't have had a more lovely evening to sit outside and visit with friends. I was so thankful for the sunshine and even more thankful for the cool temps. Though I was happy Mother Nature spread her arms wide and did her magic, I was somewhat sad that so many of my friends and family didn't join us. And as we sat there, eating and talking, I listened to several say, "I can't stay long. I have to do _____________." Unfortunately, the ripple effect took place and as soon as one person left, others followed suit. It was almost a fast-food event.

What happened to slowing down, truly slowing down and enjoying just being? Why is there a need to overlap activities, making it impossible to relax and give one's full attention to just the one event?

I did enjoy all the work leading up to the garden harvest party--the painted chairs and the table we made from the pallets, the jams and relish, and the gardens themselves. Having the garden harvest party allowed me to be creative and productive. And seeing someone walking past the house look over, see all the color, and smile as they continue on their way makes me smile.

Now, with the garden harvest party over and having to return to work just a week away, I'm going to slow down even more to soak up the last remnants of what has been one of the best summers I've ever had.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Strange Place

Some days, like today, as I'm talking with one of my kids, a faint sadness begins to gnaw at me. Lovely Beautiful Daughter is venturing into new territory, living on her own and taking care of herself by working three jobs. She hopes to continue with her education at the university this fall. The obstacle in the way is money. Me being a single mom for several years combined with not receiving any financial help from the kids' dad made it nearly impossible to save any money for the kids' higher education. I know I could have not spent money on some things, like my bikes, my workshop, and my gardens, and I probably should have put off investing in these things. Hence my sadness. I feel like I've let my kids down. And I don't know how to help them make sure they get the education they will need in today's world.

This same sadness worked at me Sunday morning as Funny Delightful Son and I walked around a local pond, carrying our fishing poles, and hoping to find the bluegill hole where all the monster bluegill hung out. Funny Delightful Son talked with me about his dreams of one day moving to the country so he can hunt, fish, trap, and live off the land. He's become proficient with both a recurve bow and a compound bow. He caught a mess of bluegill Saturday evening, enough to feed us a fried fish and hush puppy dinner Sunday evening. He's always been drawn to all things country though most of his life he's lived in the city. I wish I could have given him a country life, what I crave for myself as well, but I couldn't make that happen. The only thing I can do now is help him make his dream come true.

Then there's Angel Baby. He's no longer a baby. He's no longer a little boy. He's very quickly becoming a young man, getting taller, his voice deeper. Today he had tears sliding down his cheeks, something I haven't seen in a very long time, and struggling to follow through on attending band camp. Camp days run 8 hours, so after just a couple of days under his belt, he's exhausted. He really wanted to stay home. I could see the fatigue in his eyes, but I knew he needed to go or he'd get behind and not know the routine. After a few minutes of talking, he agreed to go. Part of me wanted to tuck him back into bed, but I knew  he had to tough it out.

It's kind of a strange place I'm in with my kids. They're independent in so many ways, but at the same time, they still need guidance and support. I'm trying to figure out how to let them find their way without helping too much, and like Angel Baby finding it within to do something he really didn't want to do, I have to find it within to hand over the reins and trust the kids in how they hold them.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Artist Application Update

This morning I opened my email to find the following:

"We are happy to inform you that your application has been accepted, and we're looking forward to displaying your work as part of the show."

Does this mean I can call myself an artist?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Ending Approaching

I'm already feeling anxiety of summer coming to an end and having to return to work in two weeks. I guess this means I've had a wonderful summer. I don't want my days with nothing scheduled as "Have to Do" to end. Putzing around in my gardens, making cucumber relish, playing with my new welder, saying, "Nahhh, I don't want to do the laundry right now" and instead settling into my hammock to read have become the way of life for me the last two months. Letting go of this is going to be incredibly difficult. My heart is already weeping over the realization of an ending approaching.

On a happier note, I fashioned my first welded sculpture. The weld isn't spectacular, but it is solid. Overall, I'm very happy with the finished product. When I let up on the welding torch trigger and realized the flowers were actually going to stay in place, I wanted to pump my fist in the air and do a happy dance. Instead, I filled out an Artist Application to have it appear in an art show featuring bicycle artwork. I figured why not? We'll see how that turns out. It'd be kinda cool to see a piece I created on display. 

One book I'm reading at present is The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. At nearly 900 pages, this is a hefty read, but I'm finding it is a fast read. I came to this book after watching the mini series based on it (up late one night because I couldn't sleep). I thoroughly enjoyed the four episodes and thus decided to read the book to see what the differences are between it and the series. Just a few pages into the book, I wondered why I'd never heard of it before. The use of language, the detail--this is a book that makes me want to turn the pages. Even though I already know the characters, what happens to them, the book is giving far more detail that help me know them in a different way, a better, more complete way.

With only two weeks of "freedom" remaining, I hope to complete another sculpture that has taken shape in my head and is demanding to become reality, and I hope to finish Crimson Petal as well as two other books I'm currently into. Staying busy with creating as well as learning might help keep the tears at bay.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Summer Thus Far

 I went to Hubby in early June and said, "I'd like a space to call my own. A workshop type of place." I pointed to the area behind the garage, saying we could clean everything out and build a barn for me. He immediately sat down with a sheet of paper and a pencil, and drew out the kind of roof I wanted. Then he measured the space to see just how big I could go. We ended up deciding my workshop could be 9 x 16. From there, we started in. After two weeks of hard work, sometimes 12 hour days, we ended up with exactly what I'd pictured in my head. I now have my red barn in which to create all the ideas that pop into my brain. My sister gave me the leaded window above the doors, and the door windows came from a salvage company here in town. I love being in my new space, but I love Hubby even more for taking my idea and turning it into reality.
One of the projects I started once I could move my stuff into the new workshop is painting all my curbside chairs that will be a part of the garden party coming up in August. I have quite a few throw-aways that I'm trying to give new life. The blue chair is one I finished a few days ago. Initially I set it in my garden, and I liked it amongst all my plants, but I decided to bring it in to drape one of Mom's quilts over. It definitely adds a burst of color to the room. Today I painted another chair canary yellow to go along with the blue chair . . .and the purple chair . . . and the key lime green chair. Lovely Beautiful Daughter laughed when she saw the key lime green chair with the new fabric adorning the seat. "It looks like a chair the Mad Hatter would sit in," she said. Exactly what I was going for! My vision of the garden party is one that is full of color, one that my guests feel infused with life. If my Mad Hatter chair makes people smile and laugh, that will make the garden party all the more fun.

And I am busy, busy with the garden. The lettuce and kale have been growing wonderfully, as have the black raspberries. But first came the strawberries. When I was cleaning my fruit garden in May, I had given serious thought to removing all my strawberry plants. They were out of control. Once I cut back the raspberries and installed a trellis for the grapes, I realized I had plenty of room to keep the strawberries. I just needed to corral them a bit better. So I did. But the weather right into June stayed cool and wet, making the bees not want to get out and pollinate. I ended up with a lot of tiny strawberries that had no taste. I also ended up with four excellent pickings--one that went to strawberry shortcake, one that went to Dad, and two that went into strawberry jam. Since then, I've been harvesting black raspberries, red raspberries, broccoli, lettuce, kale, and peas. The beans are starting to pick up, and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen. My garden has provided us with quite a bit already.

This evening, Hubby, the boys, and I enjoyed a beautiful fireworks display not far from the house. While I sat with my guys, I had to smile--my summer is going really, really well.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Practicing Mindfulness

After much thought, I have decided not to ride the Indiana/Illinois segment of Bike the US for MS Northern Tier this summer. I'm a true believer in listening to that inner voice that speaks up at times, saying something just isn't right, and every time I thought about leaving for the Indiana/Illinois segment, that voice spoke up, making me feel doing the ride wasn't the right thing to do this summer. For a long time, I tried to ignore the voice, but the closer the time for leaving approached, the louder the voice became. I finally sat down last week and really examined exactly what I was feeling and why. Truth be told, I'm loving being home. I'm loving working on my gardens and my creative pursuits. I'm loving taking my youngest to marching band practice then listening to him regale me with all the funny stories afterwards. I'm loving going out on my overnight camping trips, my trekking bike loaded with just the bare essentials for one night away from home. I don't want to miss any of this by being gone for two weeks. When I told my dad that I'd decided not to do the ride, my youngest was sitting next to me at the time. His response was an emphatic "Yes!" My dad agreed me being home with my boys is the best choice at this point. I know one day I will do the Northern Tier, the whole distance, but it may not happen until the boys are finished with high school. And now that I've made a firm decision, that inner voice has quieted.

Part of me felt like I was letting my mom down by not riding, but just as I'm a true believer in listening to that inner voice, I'm also a true believer in paying attention to what our dreams offer us. In the early morning hours this morning, I was dreaming I was inside a house that was very familiar to me. It reminded me of the house where we lived when I was a kid, in southern Michigan. I opened a door and found myself in a bathroom. The 1970's black and gold striped decor made me start laughing. I left that room and went to the next door just a few paces down the hall. I opened it to find another bathroom, just as hideous as the first. I laughed more. At that point, I told myself, "I'm dreaming. This is a dream." Then I heard Mom's voice, and I asked, "How are you, Mom?" She answered with, "It's so beautiful here." A calm washed over me. I felt so happy knowing Mom is happy where she is. I woke up then, the calm and happy feeling still with me. Mom's okay.

Every day I go out to ride, my thoughts turn to Mom. Today she and I had a wonderful ride of 41 miles under partly cloudy skies and a slight breeze at our backs for 20 of the 41 miles. While I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring, I do know being right here with my family this summer is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Our Very Happy Anniversary

Today marks Hubby's and my 8th anniversary. We've had wonderful times, okay times, and difficult times. These last three days fall into the wonderful times category, as we took off on Friday for a couple of days away, to breathe and just be with one another.

Friday, we drove up to Princeton, a small town with lots of antique shops and proximity to the Hennepin canal trail. Because we didn't arrive there until later in the evening, we decided to just get dinner and ride the trail the next day. With our getaway being a celebration of our 8th year of marriage, we decided to hit up the steakhouse, go all out. Unfortunately, our going all out consisted of sitting at a table situated between two larger parties, each with a baby in a booster chair at the end, one just a couple of feet behind me. I was a few bites into my salad when the baby behind me let out an eardrum shattering wail. I wanted to turn and glare at the mother, but I reminded myself that I was in her position at one point in my life (though I don't really remember any of my three screaming like this child did while out at a restaurant--selective memory?). The peanut butter pie smoothed my ruffled feathers, as did a second glass of red wine. Lovely Beautiful Daughter tells me I'm too far beyond the baby years now and have lost my baby patience. I think she may be right.

Saturday morning, we by-passed the hotel continental breakfast since a rather large wedding party was whooping it up in the breakfast area, and went across the street to the Big Apple, a family diner. I played it safe and just ordered eggs, bacon and toast. Hubby went for the Denver omelet. While the meal wasn't spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, it was okay. For me it was just fuel for our ride. Hubby, however, was quite disappointed with his meal. He tends to expect much more as far as deliciousness goes with his food than I do. I tease him about his taste buds being corrupted due to all the processed foods that he eats, that he really doesn't know what "good" food tastes like. I had to agree, though, that his Denver omelet was a bit on the dry side. As we were leaving the restaurant, a young couple with a baby was arriving. I looked at Hubby and whispered, "Run!"

We arrived where we wanted to begin our ride, unloaded our bikes, and set off. No sooner had we started that we stopped, mesmerized by the fish jumping in the rushing waters coming over the lock. After I finally stopped taking pictures, Hubby laughed and said, "Look across the bridge." I looked to where he was
pointing and saw the sign: Trail Closed. "Not to us," I said, setting off. After a few miles, we came to a washout, figuring this was the reason for the sign. We also saw lots of other bicycle tire tracks, so we just kept on. Not much farther down the trail, a huge bird flew out of the trees lining the left side of the track. The wingspan was one I've never seen before. This bird was huge. I stopped, intent on getting my camera out to snap a pic, but by the time I did, the bird had flown back into the dense tree growth. I found out later that evening, after we'd arrived back at our hotel room and did some internet searching, that the bird we'd seen was a golden eagle. It truly was an awe-inspiring moment to have seen one so close to us.

Today, we awoke to drizzle and fog. Not the best cycling conditions. So we decided to check out of the hotel and come on home. We took the long way around--back roads, small towns where we stopped at the Casey's or Huck's to buy scratch-off lotto tickets (and won right up to the last ticket), and even an estate auction where I found a beautiful wedding ring quilt but had no cash to use to bid on it. Which is okay. I'm a lucky woman to be married to the man I am; I don't wear a wedding ring, and I don't need a wedding ring quilt to make my marriage a happy one.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Getting My Hands Dirty

Despite the 22 mph winds yesterday, I pedaled my way to 51 miles. When I started out, the wind was out of the SW, so I headed west, thinking I'd have a nice, somewhat of a wind at my back for the return ride. Sounded good, but the wind didn't cooperate. After 25 miles into what was mostly a headwind, I turned around to find the wind had shifted to be a straight out of the south crosswind. By mile 44, I was toast. But, I managed to get 51 miles logged, and the fatigue felt really, really good, so I reveled in my winning the battle against the wind all evening, as I watched the Blackhawks win in overtime against the Redwings.

My plan to get out again today most likely won't happen. The wind is still at it, more so than yesterday it seems. I just can't get excited about cycling into 25 mph winds today. With my self-supported ride nearing, along with the ride with the Northern Tier group through Indiana and Illinois, I'm afraid I won't be physically ready to tackle the daily mileage. I've not ridden anywhere close to what I rode last year right up to the day we left out of Yorktown. Instead, I've been gardening and making things. Not exactly the kind of prep work required to be able to cycle an average of 65 miles a day. It is what it is, though, and I know I'll muddle through.

What I am excited about right now is my garden. Everything is growing! I was fearful the amount of rain we've had over the last three weeks would create problems, but so far all of my plants look good. My grapes are creeping over the trellis I put up for them. This is one of my favorite pieces to the garden. I am so looking forward to what it looks like when it's completely covered by the grapevines. I do have a new branch growing in the opposite direction of the trellis, towards the fence in the background. Not quite sure what to do about that, maybe get another cattle fencing panel to go up and over the wood fence. That might be kind of cool. 

My strawberries are ripening now. While I had decided to remove the entire strawberry patch, I just couldn't bring myself to take out what might end up being a really, really good harvest. I ended up weeding it thoroughly. The amount of runners this year has created a very thick, plush patch. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to pick enough strawberries to freeze some or maybe even make some strawberry preserves. At the very least, I should be able to make strawberry shortcake for dessert all through June.


Then there's the raspberries. The vines are chock full of emerging berries. Like with the strawberries, I'd love to be able to freeze some or make preserves. How wonderful would it be to open the freezer in the cold of January and pull out some tasty raspberries to eat on hot pancakes or in a steaming bowl of oatmeal? Yum. Another idea (sparked by thinking about pancakes) is to make raspberry syrup. See, this is exactly why I've not gotten a lot of cycling miles in--just too many fun things to work on, like finding a good raspberry syrup recipe to have on hand once the berries are ripe!

All of the gardening has given me permanent dirty fingernails. I try to clean them every night, but I've become like one of those guys working in a garage, whose fingernails are constantly stained with grease and oil. I don't mind so much; my dirty hands are helping grow food. That's a good feeling.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Birdbath, Pink Rocker, and Fruit Garden

When I signed off back in April, I knew I would be back sooner or later. At the time, I just needed a breather. I turned off a lot of the background noise for the last month and some days, and focused on a few things pulling at me, like gardening and creating. The joy that I've felt completing a few of these projects got me through the end of the semester, to the end of the school year for my boys, and ready for the beginning of summer.

Bicycle Birdbath
The bicycle wheel birdbath is by far my favorite project to date. During a meeting at work the last week of the semester, I drifted off into JK Land and thought, "I really need a birdbath." Then I started doodling on the pad of paper I always carry with me, thinking about the couple of old wheels hanging on the side of my workbench. I knew I still had the fork from the pawn shop bike, too, so I figured I could combine the wheels and the fork to make my birdbath. As soon as I got home that day, I went to the garage and set to work. Hubby helped me figure out how to fit the top wheel to the fork, which meant a quick trip to the farm store for the type of rod I needed. After the fork and wheel were attached, I then needed to make a quick trip to the huge box store for the water trays. Then, because I couldn't find the bolt that fit the fork (somehow it disappeared from my bench), I had to return to the farm store to find a bolt that fit. If I were to make another, I know what I'd do differently to make the process a whole lot smoother. That said, I am enamored with my birdbath though I had to endure a learning curve. I now have flowers around it, making it just about the cutest thing I have seen in a long time.

Little Pink Rocker
My second favorite project is my pink rocking chair. I found this beauty at a yard sale, and it didn't look anything like this when I bought it. The seat was a woven bark that had split, broken, and was not in any shape for someone to sit on. The chair itself was a dingy cream. The chair was just plain sad looking. I paid the owner $5 and loaded the chair into the back of my SUV, wondering how the heck I was going to fix the seat. I have no clue how to work with bark or any other weaving materials. Some searching online brought me to a page where someone had used fabric to weave a seat on a ladder-back chair. I figured I could do the same on the rocking chair. So I rummaged through every drawer, closet, and storage bin I have to find something to use, finally coming across an old tablecloth I wasn't ever going to use again because the red dye had run into the yellow when I washed it. Being a strong weave, I knew this tablecloth was meant to be the new seat for this chair. Returning to my childhood, I pretended I was making a potholder, and when it was all said and done, the seat turned out all right. Initially, I thought of going the white route with the chair, but when Lovely Beautiful Daughter showed up with three cans of spray paint, one being the Berry Pink, I knew I white just wasn't going to cut it. Pink is all happiness.

Tidy Fruit Garden
Another project that kept me busy for awhile was getting the fruit garden cleaned up. The raspberries had taken over in one corner. The strawberries were spreading across another corner. And the grapevines were unhappy with the lack of support they had with the rotting string that had been strung between two pathetic posts. So I put on my rubber boots, got my plant cutter, shovel, and rake together, and set to work. After a little more than a week of working, I was able to get the garden under control. I cut back the raspberries then restrung the line between the posts. The line helps keep all the vines curtailed. I then went to what is now my favorite place--the farming store--and bought a cattle fence panel to use as the support for the grapevines. They are now happily crawling up and over the panel. With the strawberries, I am in the process of transplanting some of the plants to the cement bricks. This should help keep the plants from spreading all over the garden. While I still have a large area of strawberry plants, I 'm going to transplant most then till the space so I can plant my two dwarf apple trees there. That's the job I hope to complete this week.

There have been other projects going on along with all of these, mostly gardening. I haven't cycled much the last month. Just some commuting, short errands, and a couple of longer rides on the warmer days. The past week has been mostly rainy and chilly, so the desire to get out just hasn't nagged at me. I have, though, been prepping for my self-supported ride that's coming up. I am getting stoked about it, and I even have some shorter self-supported rides in the works to do during the next couple of weeks. I found a couple of campgrounds I can ride to, camp for the night, then ride home the next day. Hopefully, the weather will turn warmer and dryer for these rides.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Taking a Blog-battical

As I sit here, typing while looking out the window above my computer, watching the rain fall, rain we've so badly needed, I think about how I haven't blogged for some time. A tiny part of me feels guilty for not being more regular, but then a larger part of me thinks who the hell cares what I have to say anyway? And that duality is what's been my life for awhile now. Ever since last summer when I arrived home after spending 60 glorious days on my bike, learning how easily I can live with so little. Last summer is still with me in a very big way, so much so that every single day, as I'm sitting in my office, grading student work, or standing in front of the classroom, talking about the day's lesson, last summer's images, smells, sounds, and feelings creep in, interrupt. Not a day goes by that I don't think about last summer.

Even now, while I should be responding to the student paper I have pulled up on my computer, my thoughts instead turned to the day we climbed Monarch Pass in Colorado. It rained that day, giving the day's ride a very different flavor from what we'd dealt with while cycling through Kansas. Kansas was hot. The water in our water bottles was like that for hot tea. Drinking it was unpleasant but definitely needed to stave off dehydration. Cycling Monarch Pass was cool. Wet. A pleasant wet that gave a shiny gloss to the ferns growing from the rocky shoulder. I remember not rushing that climb, but rather just taking it easy to enjoy the rain, the Aspens, the purple flowers that looked like teardrops. When I was just yards away from the entrance to the campground where we were camping that night, a man in a truck pulled up alongside me, yelling, "Ma'am, there's a wide load coming up behind you. You need to get out of the way!" On my right was a rock wall. I could have stopped and squished myself against it. Instead, I checked for oncoming traffic, and seeing none, I high-tailed it to the left, across the left two lanes to reach the shoulder provided there. Just seconds after reaching the shoulder, the wide load lumbered past. Later, when we all had our tents set up and were changed into warmer, dry clothes, we gathered under the canopy tents at the RV to eat a pasta dinner and drink beer. I want to be back there now. I don't want to be here.

Because of my current love/hate relationship with blogging (and several other aspects of my life), I've decided to take a blog-battical. I'm sure I'll return sooner or later. For now, I wish you all good health, happiness, and peace.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

It Truly is Just a Blink

Things are changing around my house. Good changes. Happy changes. Well, mostly happy. Lovely Beautiful Daughter has moved out, and while I'm happy for her because moving into her first apartment makes her happy, I'm also somewhat sad. I already miss her. Her spark, her creativity, and her cheerfulness always made for fun times. Lovely Beautiful Daughter taught me how important it is to play as an adult, so I try every single day to incorporate some kind of play into my schedule, even if it's only an online word game of some sort. She's been so good for my soul her entire life, and I will never be able to express in words what this young woman means to me.

And my boys. Both are changing what seems like by the minute. Funny Delightful Son just got his driver's license. Angel Baby is now taller than I am. All I've been thinking about lately is how it won't be long before both of them are off and on their own, too. My babies are no longer babies.

Where did the time go?

I blinked, and now here I am facing changes I'm not so sure I'm ready for.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring is Finally Here

Today the sun won out over the chill of the wind, and the temps climbed to 70. As soon as I walked outside this morning, I knew I could not let this day slip by without getting a longer ride in. So I planned to be out by noon, after delivering Hubby to the airport and after starting a new art piece just to see if what I was trying to do would work. It worked. I finished some of the new piece then turned my attention to getting the bike ready as well as myself ready. At noon, I was on the road.

Less than a quarter mile down the street, I had the thought of turning back to put a long-sleeved shirt under my jersey. The slight breeze was just enough cool to make me wonder if I would be miserable the entire ride. I decided I would eventually warm up, so I kept going. Around mile 30 I was wiping sweat from my face and very glad I hadn't put on the long sleeves. About a mile into the ride I realized I'd not put on gloves. I guess after riding on the trainer during the colder months, without gloves, put me in the mindset of gloves not needed. I thought about turning back, but being a mile away from the house made me say, "Nahhhh. I'll be fine." And I was. The hands didn't protest at all during the ride, and I never hit any holes that send a jarring pain up through the hands, so sans gloves worked out a-okay.

While my plan was to go for 40 miles, I wasn't concerned about speed. I really just wanted to see where the road took me, work out the kinks and maybe get some of the winter blahs out of my system. The snow, the cold, and the wind have all hung around a bit too long for my tastes. I love wearing sweaters, but there comes a time when layering and bundling up gets old. That old arrived over a month ago in all its gray haired, gray bearded glory. Time to take a hike, Old.

One of my ways to deal with Old has been to create. I found a stack of old windows on the curb. I couldn't just let them stay there all sad and lonely, so I brought several of them home with me. Two have been brightened up and are now gracing our deck. They truly make me smile. I'm working on a third, creating a more folk art kind of scene on it, and so far it is coming along nicely. Where it will hang is still up in the air, but I'm thinking maybe the garden fence might be a good home for it.

Another bright note: Hubby is back to work. Three plus long years of being unemployed put him in a dark place, but now, after just one week of being back to work, I see the happiness again. That happiness looks good on him.

Yeah, life is perking up. Feels wonderful.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Snow Day!!!

Nearly 8 inches of snow gave me the elusive snow day I've been pining for. And the only thing to do on a snow day is build a snow person, so that's what I did. Lovely Beautiful Daughter arrived home from work when I was finishing up and laughed, asking, "Where are the boys? Why aren't they helping?" That's okay. I enjoyed doing it myself.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

From 48 and Sunny to 33 with Wind and Snow

Here we are, March 24, and the snow is falling, the wind blowing. Nearly all day. This after yesterday with temps near 50, a slight breeze out of the NE, and lots of sun. This after being able to get 33 miles in--33 lovely, wonderful miles.

I'm officially over winter. While I love winter and being able to slow down, collect myself, I'm tired of being cold. I actually went to the thermostat today and kicked it up five degrees because I just couldn't get warm. I'm the one in the family who usually runs warm and can't stand anything over 65 degrees. Not so today. Shivering, even wrapped in a cozy sweatshirt, I punched it up to 69 much to the surprise of my family. I didn't hear any complaining happening.

Yesterday's ride did put me at the 10% mark for the number of days I'm hoping to cycle this year. My goal is 200 days, and I am now officially at 20 days. Slowly but surely I'm making a dent in the mileage I want to reach as well. My goal of 7000 miles is looking lofty with only 161 miles to date, but there's a lot of year left. If this darn snow and cold would just give it up, I'd be able to get more days and miles in. It is nearly April for Heaven's sake.

On the bright side, maybe, just maybe, I'll get that elusive snow day tomorrow. The snow is supposed to continue through the night. I can hear the wind as I sit here at my desk. Maybe, just maybe . . ..

Friday, March 15, 2013

Off the Trainer, On the Roads



A last minute decision made today. I was headed out the door to go to work, during my spring break mind you, when I received a text from Hubby telling me to ride up to the lake and see the house he's been doing some work on. I stopped and said, "That sounds way better than going to work." So I hustled about the house, changing clothes and gathering up my cycling gear, and within 20 minutes I was on the road.

Sometimes the work just has to wait.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Overcoming Fear

I've been reading At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace within Everyday Chaos by Ezra Bayda, and one part in particular has spoken to me, made me say, "Yeah, I'm that person." Bayda tells about how during a talk, he told the group he was going to ask several audience members to join him in front of everyone and have them sing their hearts out, like they do in the shower and while in their car. Bayda goes on to relate how
the tension in the room very evidently went up. He suggests this happens as a result of what people perceive as an "assault on their cherished self-image." When I read that, I went straight back to 6th grade, when I and every other sixth grader had to get up and sing the "Star Spangled Banner." Solo. I sang it with gusto, just like I did so many other things in life as a ten-year-old. When I finished, one of my classmates looked at me and said, "That was simply awful." The rest of the class laughed. Needless to say, my singing career ended right there and then. To this day, I still don't sing. Ever.

That moment in my life determined how I present myself and how I want others to see me. My self-image was carefully tailored from that point on. I wasn't going to have people laugh at me ever again. And for that not to happen, I played it safe. I did everything so as not to draw attention to myself. But like Bayda goes on to point out, living like this isn't really being free. It's living trapped by fear.

I've been working bit by bit to move beyond the fear. While I still don't sing (maybe this is something I will tackle one day), I choose something to do everyday that is directly opposite of what I would have done in the past. Whether it be what I decide to wear (I now have five dresses in my closet--I've not worn dresses in decades and the first day I wore one, I certainly drew a lot of attention to myself) or speaking in front of groups (I've done more speaking engagements since August 2012 than I've ever done before), I'm not afraid to let people see who I truly am.

And that's why I put signs on my cruiser. In the past, I wouldn't have put signs on my bike. That would have drawn way too much attention to me. Now, though, I want the attention because I want people to see I care about those living with MS. I want people to stop for one moment and think about who they know who is living with MS. Maybe in stopping and thinking about that person, they will take the next step: calling to say hello, visiting to bring cheer to that person's life for even just five minutes, or taking that person out for lunch. Those little gestures will make a great impact.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

MS Awareness Week 2013

Tomorrow kicks off MS Awareness Week 2013, so I spent time today fashioning a new bracelet to wear. I made three, took apart those three because I wasn't pleased with them, then finally created one I know I will wear. I combined the MS Society colors along with the initials from Bike the US for MS. The ends are bike chain links, and the Hope charm finishes it off. Of all the bracelets I've made so far, this one is my favorite.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Deep Snow Ride

Though much of the snow dumped on us Tuesday has melted off, many areas on the trail are still covered by a deep layer. At times, I had to hop off Old Faithful and walk. Once or twice I wished the city would see to it that the trail was cleared with the same zeal that is taken to make sure all of the city streets are cleared when it snows. I tried an alternate route on the way home, taking the sidewalk along Main Street, but it was just as tough to manage as the trail. Apparently pedestrians and cyclists aren't a concern here. That's sad.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Planning My Summer Ride

Part I: Self-Supported Ride to Meet Up with BTUSFMS Northern Tier Group


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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chipping Away at Plan B

Traffic Skills 101 online course--done! Now I need to do the hands-on portion, but from what I'm finding, this may not happen any time soon. Interestingly enough, there is no League Certified Instructor (LCI) in the Twin Cities. Additionally, there are no classes scheduled within the next 60 days for anywhere near me. Thankfully, I was able to find the name and email address for an LCI who lives in Urbana. I sent her an email, asking if she would be agreeable to setting up a day/time for the hands-on portion. Hopefully she'll respond quickly, saying, "Why yes, I'd love to be your instructor." Once I get this part of the class finished, I can then sign up for the LCI seminar. The wheels, they are a'turnin'.

At one point while taking the second quiz of the online course, I sat back and complained, "This question is asking about something that wasn't even covered in the chapter." I selected the answer that made the most sense to me, but I selected wrong. When I got to Chapter 3, I read the information that went with the question I missed. That doesn't seem quite right. I passed, though, and passing is what matters. Now I can move forward and continue chipping away at Plan B.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Step #2 of Plan B

I began step #2 of Plan B. Step #1 was to begin learning basic mechanics/bicycle repair. I've had two classes so far and need to schedule the third. Since the weather has been so cold, the garage has been frigid to the point of being uncomfortable to work in. I'm hoping The Weather Channel people are right in that we'll see the end of the cold come the end of February. They keep saying March will be above average in temps, so I'm really banking on this. They better be right. I need to have another session. While I wait, I decided to go ahead and take step #2: becoming a League Certified Instructor (League of American Bicyclists). Before I can attend an instructor seminar, I have to take the online Traffic Skills 101 course, so that's what I'm doing.

Chapter 1 covered the different parts of the bike, basic bike fit information, and equipment. I read through it, well, I skimmed a lot of it, then took the 6 question quiz at the end. I'll be honest--I was a bit worried that I might get a question or two wrong since I didn't read the material closely. Since I don't know if I'm allowed to miss any, I was crossing my fingers that I got them all correct. I was dreading clicking on the Submit button, but I had nothing to really worry about. I answered them all correctly. 100%! Now I'm into Chapter 2. And I'm digging this. Realizing how much I know about the basics makes me incredibly happy. I know I can confidently offer advice to someone just starting out.

The nice thing is being able to do the class online. I can go at my own pace, and when I'm finished with the online portion, I can contact a certified instructor out of Champaign or Chicago to complete the hands-on portion. When this is finished I can sign up for the instructor seminar. Once I have the certification, I will be able to offer classes right here, perhaps through our local bike shops and maybe even through my college's Community Education program.

So goes step #2. I'm happy with Plan B and how things are going. While Plan A is the ideal, I've set it aside as I'm just not confident in being able to get the funding needed to make it happen. Plan B is doable. Who knows, maybe after finishing the steps of Plan B I'll have what I need to pursue Plan A more confidently.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Birthday Date

I have a date for my birthday, March 5th. The film showing is to raise money for a bike give-away initiative, and I was asked to speak about my experience cycling across the US. Can't think of a better way to spend my evening.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Odds and Ends

How about that Notre Dame/Louiseville game last night?! Five OT's! And Notre Dame walked away the victor. A really fun game to watch. Then there was the Purdue/Michigan State game, which saw my Boilers dig a hole they couldn't get themselves out of. Not fun to watch at all.

No cycling for two weeks now. The first day I didn't ride the temp was 2 degrees with a -18 degree wind chill, the wind blowing furiously from the northwest. The next few days the temps remained bitterly cold, so I decided to wait out the weather, hoping for a warm up. Then last week came, and I was called upon for child pick-up duty in the afternoons. With my schedule, driving was the better option. Now, the rain has moved in. Cold, heavy rain, and wind.

Not cycling has made me lazy. I haven't done anything remotely physical these last two weeks. I feel like a slug. I'm afraid all the work I put in the last year is going to be undone. I have a trainer I could set up, and I have a dreadmill I could use, but I just can't find the gumption to get myself to follow through. I'm afraid to get on the scale to see what the damage is. While my clothes are still on the loose side, I know it won't take long for that to change.

What's helping me keep the weight under some kind of control is, at least I believe, the fact I no longer eat grains, legumes, or dairy. In November, a friend asked me to do a 30 day challenge with her. She had turned to the Paleo lifestyle, and she wanted me to give it a try. Always up for a challenge, I said sure, why not. That first week I lost 3 pounds. When the 30 days were up, I didn't weigh in, but I could see a marked difference in how I felt between noon and 3 pm, and how well I was sleeping. Before doing the challenge, I used to get so tired and have awful abdominal pain between noon and 3 or 4 pm. After the 30 days, my energy was noticeably better and the pain was gone. Also before doing the challenge, every night I would wake up around 2 am and have a tough time getting back to sleep. After the 30 days, I was sleeping through the night, not waking up at all. I mean I was sleeping hard. These changes were enough for me to say I'm going Paleo all the way. I am still Paleo, loving the energy in the afternoons, the no abdominal pain, and the sleeping through the night. Occasionally I miss bread, so I do allow myself to have a bagel or a slice of bread once in awhile, but overall, I can live without it. I don't miss the dairy at all. While I love, love, love yogurt, I don't pine over not eating it any longer.

Lastly, Angel Baby has a band competition coming up. He plays the sax, and recently he auditioned for the high school band director to determine which level band he would be placed in for next year as a freshman in high school. He made it into the second level. I didn't know anything about the different levels, but another parent assured me being in the second level as a freshman is very, very good. The band director then offered to give Angel Baby a private lesson once a week at no charge, saying he believes Angel Baby has real talent. I've always wondered. When Angel Baby started playing the sax four years ago, he very quickly learned how to read music. I've listened to other kids his age struggle with reading music, but Angel Baby very matter of factly reads off the notes then plays them as if it's nothing. One of my favorite things to do these days is listen to him play. I love having a musician in the house.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wooed and Won Over By A Bicycle

I've started working on my next essay/article, and I'm so excited. My intent with this one is to explore how the bicycle has allowed women to take control of their own destiny, and I hope to do this through the voices of the women with whom I was privileged to ride beside last summer, as well as articles and books I'm finding as I research. One book I will refer to during my piece is How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle by Frances E. Willard. I'm about a third of the way into this little gem and have marked several passages that speak to what I'm hoping to accomplish within my essay/article.

So far, one of my favorite passages in How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle is this: "Gradually, item by item, I learned the location of every screw and spring, spoke and tire, and every beam and bearing that went to make up Gladys (the name she gave to her bike). This was not the lesson of a day, but of many days and weeks, and it had to be learned before we could get on well together. To my mind the infelicities of which we see so much in life grow out of lack of time and patience to study and adjust our natures to those of others, though we have agreed in the sight of God and man to stand by one another to the last. Many will not take the pains, they have not enough specific gravity, to balance themselves in their new environment. Indeed, I found a whole philosophy of life in the wooing and the winning of my bicycle."

I've read this passage quite a few times now, not only for the melody I hear through construction of the sentences and the choice of words, which I find incredibly satisfying, but also for the message. With anything we undertake in life, learning the in's and out's of said undertaking make it fuller, richer. I've now had two bicycle mechanic classes, the last one this past Thursday at a friend's--who jumped aboard my "I want to be a bicycle mechanic" wagon--where the two of us were walked through how to put a bicycle together. My friend had all the parts for his new BMX bike, and after three hours, the parts were all fitted together to create his beautiful ride (well, all except the hydraulic brake line which popped out of the brake lever housing and thus created the necessity for bleeding the line before it could be put back together). Now that I know more about how the pieces fit together and how they work together to allow me the opportunity to roll along the streets of my city or countryside, enjoying the sights and sounds around me, the more I appreciate the machine that is the bicycle.

It is this appreciation for the bicycle and what it has allowed women to do, specifically the women of last summer's ride, that I want to reflect in my new piece.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Moving Beyond the Used Car

Ever since I was 16 and received my driver's license, I have driven used cars. I have never, ever bought a brand, spankin' new car. Until yesterday. And the car I bought isn't even for me.

Now that Lovely Beautiful Daughter is working three jobs, I just couldn't stand by and watch her put over $100 of her money into gas every 10 days or so. Our ten-year-old SUV is sucking her dry. In addition, the two used vehicles I'd bought for her over the last five years ended up being more trouble than they were worth, the last one running for a month before it died, never to be resurrected no matter what was tried. After that little debacle, I thought long and hard about the situation. Since she's working, and her brother is just a few months away from getting his license, I decided to buy a new car the both of them could use. Lovely Beautiful Daughter is going halvers with me on the payment, and Funny Delightful Son has offered to chip in once he gets a job this summer. While I don't need them to help pay for the car, I do think having them help will show them how important it is to take care of something that costs this much.

When Funny Delightful Son went to the garage this morning to see the Nissan Versa we'd brought home last evening while he was out with friends, the excitement in his voice and the wonder on his face made me completely happy with my decision. Lovely Beautiful Daughter, too, is smitten with the black beauty now occupying the bay the SUV used to. The poor SUV has been relegated to having to sit out in the elements, something it has never had to do.

Being able to do this for my kids has made me very happy. I know a lot of parents would most likely tell me I should make the kids work for and buy their own cars, and I do understand their position. My thinking, though, is I'm capable of doing this, both are going to chip in and help, and together we'll buy our family's first ever brand, spankin' new car.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Only Three Weeks Into the Semester And . . .

I lost my cool in my English 101 class. I try really hard to never let this happen, but . . ..

I could tell my ire was rising when a student who missed class on Tuesday came in and said, "I wasn't here on Tuesday. What did I miss? And I don't know what you mean by annotated bibliography." In my head, my answer was, "Ummmmm, you missed the explanation for the two assignments that are due next week, one of which is the annotated bib. I spent an hour and fifteen minutes going over both assignments on Tuesday, making sure those who were in class understood what is being asked with the assignments. That's what you missed." Out of my mouth came, "I went over the two assigments. What exactly about the annotated bib don't you understand?" And for the next ten minutes, I stood by this student, explaining again what I explained on Tuesday.

A few minutes later, another student asked for help. "I'm confused. I went to Google and typed in "citation" because you didn't explain what a citation is and now, after looking at what I have here, I'm totally confused." In my head, my response was, "I did explain what a citation is. During the last class, I walked the entire class through the program that generates citations, showing how to plug in the author's name, the title of the article, etc, because this information is what is needed for a citation. After doing this, I said, 'This is the citation. This answers number 1 on the handout.'" Out of my mouth came, "A citation is made up of all the information about the source: author, title, publisher, date, etc." Silence. The student then reiterates extreme confusion because the handout I provided listed the citation as being a required component for each annotation on the annotated bib. Not listening to the little voice inside my head telling me to remain calm, I said with a bit of flippancy, "Because a citation is part of an annotation on an annotated bib." I suggested the student visit a popular online writing lab to examine the examples of an annotated bib to see that the citation is the first component of an annotation. The response? A very deep exhale and, "I don't need to go there to see what an annotation looks like." In my head, I said, "Ooookayyyyy. Obviously you know more than I do, so you're on your own now, pal." Out of my mouth came, "Hmmmm, well, okay." After a bit more conversation, the student seemed to have a better idea for what was needed for the annotated bib.

Then, right at the end of class, a student asked about the due date for a journal entry. I said, "It was due on Tuesday." The student responded with, "You didn't tell us that." All calm was gone. All notion of staying reasonable had been used up. In a voice I normally use with my own kids when they've gone beyond what is deemed acceptable behavior, I informed this student that I most certainly did tell the class; they actually had it in writing on the course calendar, and unless I stand in front of the class and say, "Don't do this assignment,' it is their responsibility to make sure it is done by the due date and turned in. "In high school the teachers always reminded us. We didn't have to keep track," the student said. "Welcome to college," I responded.

I'm wondering if it's time for a sabbatical. I'm finding myself becoming less and less patient with students, and most of my impatience comes from these three things: 1) poor attendance which results in missing a lot of information provided in class. Upon returning to class, the student expects me to go over everything missed; 2) inattention while in class because the student is caught up in texting, Facebooking, or the belief he/she doesn't need to listen to the explanation of an assignment. When the "I have no clue as to what's being asked" hits because of not paying attention, the student wants me to go over it all again; and 3) the unwillingness to figure things out; students want to be spoonfed and they want everything to be "easy."

Thankfully classes are finished for the week, and I have my copy of Bicycling beyond the Divide to take me away from this nonsense. Hopefully, during the next few days I can find some down time to relax and recharge my patience battery.