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Monday, December 29, 2014

Falling into a Pothole

For nearly three years now, I've been on a journey to live with less, to simplify and find happiness in the small things. Before becoming more intentional about the way I want to live, I thought about it a lot while reading anything and everything offering ways to pare down, to do without, to recycle and even upcycle. Along the way, I threw in anything and everything about Buddhism, at first out of curiosity but then because I found the teachings fit with how I want to continue with my journey. Most days the journey is smooth, with me considering others' ideas, needs, and wants and doing what I can to help. Other days, the journey's path becomes full of potholes that are difficult for me to maneuver. Sometimes, I even fall into a pothole. And while I climb out, brush myself off, and continue on, I do feel a bit bruised, which is how I'm feeling right now.

Today was beautiful. Sunny. Very little wind. I spent the morning reading then hanging out with Funny Delightful Son, thinking that after lunch I'd take our furry family members for a nice, long walk, which we did, going our usual route. Just over a half mile in, I could see a van parked on the sidewalk. Because there is no sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, I couldn't cross over to avoid the van. The only way around it was to go out into the street. I pulled the boys up short on their leashes, checked to be sure no cars were coming our way, then started around. When we neared the rear of the van, a man stepped out from where he'd been standing behind it and said, "Sorry." I didn't reply. I simply kept walking the dogs as what I hadn't been able to see was that there was a trailer hitched to the van, so we were in the street longer than I had thought we would be. I merely wanted to get beyond the trailer and back onto the sidewalk. A couple of steps beyond the man, I heard a snarky, "Gee, thanks."

I should have kept going. I should have focused on how lovely a day it was. But I didn't. I stopped. I turned. And I'm pretty sure I gave what my family calls "The Look," which is, so I've been told, like daggers being shot from my face.

That's when the man said, "What do you want me to do?"

"Move your van off the sidewalk," I said.

To this, the man gave me a dismissive wave of a hand and said, "Keep moving."

Before I could stop myself, before I could think things through, the pothole opened up and I fell in. I heard myself say, "You're an asshole." Yeah, not what I've been working towards for awhile now. Not even close.

His response? "You're a bitch." He gave another dismissive wave and again said, "Just keep moving."

As if I hadn't already blown out a tire on one pothole, I went ahead and blew out a second by hitting another pothole when I said, "Assholes who are also idiots tend to make me a bitch." With that, I turned and continued on. If anything else was said, I didn't hear it.

For most of the walk, I thought about this little incident and what I should have done. I should have just walked on, not stopping, not turning, not giving "The Look." I should have taken a deep breath in then let it out slowly. I should have reached forward and run my hands over the soft, silky coats of my beautiful dogs. When I thought about why I didn't do these things, it occurred to me that what bothered me most was the snarky "Gee, thanks" that was said because I didn't respond to his apology. I'm pretty sure he wanted me to say, "Oh, it's okay. Go ahead and park your van and trailer on the sidewalk as long as you want." I didn't say anything in response to his "sorry" because it wasn't okay that he was breaking the law by parking his van and trailer on the sidewalk. It wasn't okay that his action was forcing me and my dogs out into the street. And it definitely wasn't okay that he followed his "sorry" with a snarky comment designed to make me feel bad.

So, yeah, I fell into two potholes today. Not exactly what I had in mind when I set off for our walk, but it happened. Next time, and yes, I know there will be a next time, hopefully I'll do a much better job of avoiding the potholes and continue on my journey, skipping and smiling along the way.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Remembering

Three years ago this morning, the phone rang just after 4 am, and I knew it was the call we'd been waiting for. The one telling us Mom had slipped away, leaving this world for the next. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed, talking with my sister and being sad but at the same time feeling some solace in knowing Mom was no longer suffering. I still get sad at times when I think about her, the sadness more over how her body became her enemy during the last 20 or so years of her life. I hope my body and I don't ever become enemies, and it is because of this hope that I decided how I was going to spend my day today, in memory of her.

Initially I thought about getting a sky lantern and writing a message on it to send up to the heavens. Then I thought about getting a floating lantern to send out onto the lake. Each of those ideas, though, just weren't dazzling me, even when I had both in the cart and was ready to hit the Buy button. Since the dazzle factor was nonexistent, I deleted the contents of the cart and closed the computer. Right up until this morning, I had no idea what I wanted to do in Mom's memory today.

Then, around noon, I knew. After a morning of sleeping in, having breakfast while engaging in a rousing discussion about a NYTimes article with Hubby and Angel Baby, followed by a walk with the dogs, the urge to ride up to the lake filled me. I didn't even check the temperature or wind direction. I just pulled on my winter weather riding clothes, grabbed my Garmin along with my phone and a bottle of water, then went to the shop to bring Sweetness down from where she was hanging in the rafters. Ado helped me air up my tires and even gave me a send-off as I rolled out of the driveway and headed out.

I took my time. I wanted to just think, to just remember Mom during the better days. The better days included horses. When I was a kid, she shared her love of horses with me. I started riding when I was four or five, first a little black pony named Pony Boy. Then came Midnight, Lady, Copper, Willy, Dream, and Nikki. Each pony, each horse, played a large role in my growing up.

The better days also included books, another love my mom shared with me. I read voraciously. Especially books about horses. Billy and Blaze and everything else by C. W. Anderson, Misty of Chincoteague and everything else by Marguerite Henry, and The Black Stallion and everything else by Walter Farley came first. When I was a teenager, I found Dick Francis. I couldn't get enough of the mysteries he created involving the horse racing world.

As I rolled along under an overcast sky, it occurred to me that horses and books made for a fun and adventurous childhood.

I reached the lake in pretty good time since the wind was at my back. I knew the return home, though, wasn't going to be as enjoyable since I would be heading directly into the wind. A brisk, chilly wind that would finally seep past my shoe covers around mile 23 and numb my toes.

Before that happened, though, I spent some time at the edge of the lake. Several large flocks of geese stood on the ice, some huddled together, some alone. The quiet was interrupted every now and then by the squabbling of a few near the opposite shoreline. And I thought about a picture of Mom, of her standing in a boat after she and Dad had spent the day fishing. She had her hands on her hips and a smile on her face that said she'd had a great time. That was one of those better days.

Before I started home, I took out a package of sunflower seeds. I poured some into the palm of my hand then threw them into the air. Most will likely become food for the birds or rodents, but who knows. Maybe one will have found a hiding place. Maybe that one will take root. Grow. Bloom.

The ride back took longer since I had to battle the wind. I could feel the fatigue setting in around mile 16, which didn't surprise me since I haven't ridden any mileage to speak of since October. It was at this point that a bird, a small hawk, stayed with me for a stretch. Flying alongside then landing on a utility pole then flying ahead then landing again. I watched as it veered off to go up into a tree, and I continued on alone. Or so I thought. I'm not sure why I looked over my right shoulder, but I did. There, running just behind my rear wheel was a beautiful black Lab. It never barked. It didn't go after my tire or my legs. It seemed very happy to merely run with me for about a quarter of a mile. The only house it could have come from I'd never seen a dog at before, not even when I passed by on the way up to the lake.

When I arrived home, I thanked my body for being strong. I knew I asked a lot of it today--29 miles in 37 degrees with 14 mph winds--and it came through for me, giving me the opportunity to think about Mom and some of the things she loved by doing what I love--rolling along on Sweetness.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Maestro
























The last few weeks have been extra busy at work. I decided to keep things as simple as possible, so I drove to work instead of riding my bike.

I missed my bike.

Today I rode, but before I walked out the door to head to work, I grabbed my camera, thinking I just might need it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Small Town Finds

In October, Hubby and I went to a small town north of where we live to ride the Hennepin Canal. We've ridden the I&M Canal at times and wanted to check out another section further west. Hubby took total control of putting this ride together, wanting us to have a day of riding, enjoying the fall colors and lunch at a diner along the route. The morning of the ride dawned chilly but sunny, and we set off, my only request being that we take the back roads to get to our destination. Hubby obliged.

Gears from a lock
That day, that ride, turned out to be one of those times I think back to often and smile. It was that good. Our planned 15ish miles of riding turned into 33 miles due to arriving at what we had hoped would be our lunch spot only to find the diner was no longer in operation. We were able to get a pop at the antiques store that was open, giving us at least a little bit of a boost to keep us going long enough to reach the small town of Sheffield about five miles south. There, we found Z Best Cafe on Main, and our lunch of sandwich, apple and onion soup, and bread pudding made the extra mileage worth riding (though Hubby would most likely say otherwise; extra mileage isn't high on his list of fun things to do).

A beautiful tree along the canal
Ever since enjoying our delicious lunch at Z Best Cafe, we have considered going back to have dinner. We were told dinner at Z Best is even better than lunch, and reservations are definitely needed to get a seat during dinner hours. We haven't done so yet, but we did return to the area yesterday
to check out another restaurant, Uptown Grill. There we feasted on mushrooms stuffed with crab meat and cream cheese, prime rib, portobello mushroom sandwich, and bread pudding (yes, anytime I can get bread pudding I do, along with apple martinis). Afterwards, as we walked to the car, we changed course and went inside The Pink Chihuahua: Small Bites and Cocktails, where I enjoyed a Harvester, an apple martini paying homage to fall with its infusion of cinnamon and other spices. All I can say is mmmmmmmm.

Today, before we headed back home, we traipsed around Lasalle County, eventually finding our way to St. Columba Cemetery, in search of the tombstone for Catherine Donohue, one of the Radium Girls. For whatever reason, I have an affinity for cemeteries, and whenever I have a chance to meander through one, I will. We had a picture of her gravestone, but we never found it. Perhaps next summer I'll cycle up to Ottowa and search again for the gravestone. Seems like as good a destination as any for an overnight cycling adventure. Maybe I'll search for her gravestone at night. I hear the graves of the Radium Girls glow in the dark (and I really want to find out if this is true--though I'm pretty sure it's not).

Tree growing around a gravestone

The gravestone from one of the cemeteries I walked about this
past summer. I love her name! I hope one day I have a
granddaughter named Spicy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Staying Awake and Open

Sometimes a gnawing sadness settles over me. Not often. Just every now and again. It’s been with me now for a few weeks, just enough for me to know it’s there. I recognize it for what it is and find ways to counter it, like riding my bike even though the temperature is below 20 degrees, and allowing myself to slip into comfy sweatpants and a warm sweater as soon as I get home from work, usually around 4 pm. This signals to the family that I’m done for the day. They tease me about my propensity for putting on pajamas so early. I just snuggle up on the couch and let the world go about its business without me. More recently, I found another way to ease the sadness. When I take the dogs for their walks, and Ado decides it’s time to sit down for a break, instead of tugging at him to continue, I let him sit. I watch where his eyes go and I look where he looks. One time he was watching a crow fly overhead. Another time he saw a couple of squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of a tree. Just yesterday, he sat and turned his head first one way, then the other. Then he stood and turned around until he found the wind chimes hanging near the front door of a house. Seeing the world just a little bit through Ado’s eyes softens the sad feeling. 

Today the sadness intensified a bit with Lovely Beautiful Daughter leaving to return to her new home on the east coast. Having her visit for the holiday gave me a chance to catch up with her and the life she is creating for herself. She's doing fine. I knew she would. That's just who she is and has always been. And while I'm happy for her, I also miss her terribly. All I kept thinking the entire time she was here is I wish she'd come home. And even though I promised myself before she arrived that I would not say anything about her moving back, I broke that promise, whispering to her as I hugged her tight while saying our goodbyes that she could come home anytime. Just say the word. Lovely Beautiful Daughter hugged me tighter, saying if she needed anything she would let me know. For now, I have to be content with the knowledge that she'll be returning in May for her brother's graduation.

To help myself navigate through the sadness, I've returned to a favorite book, Comfortable With Uncertainty, by Pema Chodron, and reread some passages I marked. One, especially, spoke to me: "If you . . . aspire to stay awake and open to what you're feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best you can in each moment, then something begins to change." It used to be that I wouldn't allow myself to be open to what I was feeling. I believed I needed to squash it, bury it, refuse to acknowledge it. Doing so only enhanced the feeling, making me sink further into it and feeling worse. Now, I allow myself to say hello to the feeling, examine it, think about why it might be a part of me at that given moment. Recognizing it, acknowledging it, and giving it its own space help me understand the feeling as well as myself better.

Tomorrow the sadness might still be with me, but that's okay. I already know having breakfast with my boys will make me smile. I know walking the dogs and seeing the goings-on of the world through Ado's eyes will make me smile. I know working with my students will make me smile. That's a whole lot of smiling to look forward to.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Break in the Cold

Though it's only November, the cold temps we've been having make it seem like it's January. I'm not totally opposed to the cold. In fact, I look forward to it every year. I love wrapping up in a comfy sweater and warm scarf. I'm thinking, though, by late January, if the frigid temps continue, I'm going to be more than ready for some spring and summer warmth. These cold temps so early also have me stressing over the bees. I know I can only do so much, which I'm trying to be sure to do, but I still worry.

Two weeks ago I removed the top cover on the beehive to put a fresh jar of sugar syrup in place of the empty jar. After removing the empty jar, I looked down through the frames. Nothing moved. Nothing. I couldn't see one single bee. In disappointment, I returned to the house to don my bee suit so I could go deeper into the hive to see if the bees were truly gone. As I was dressing, Funny Delightful Son asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was afraid all my bees were either dead or gone. He accompanied me to the hive to help me check. As soon as I removed the top cover, I saw the bees. They'd come up from wherever they had been in the hive for the new sugar syrup I'd put in place. A sense of relief washed over me. Funny Delightful Son teased me over my gloom and doom reaction to not seeing a bee the first time I'd opened the hive. "You know, Mom," he said matter-of-factly, "when it's cold, bees form a ball to create heat. They were most likely in a spot where you couldn't see them." Such a smartie pants.

Today the temps have warmed to right around 50 degrees. I knew I had to take advantage of the warmth to place a new jar of syrup in the hive. This time, when I opened the hive, a mass of bees were on the top bars. Some were even coming and going at the front entrance. I saw another drag a dead bee from the hive and take it to the ground a few feet in front. I decided to go ahead and install the mouse guard, just tacking it temporarily in place to see how it works. The space between the bars is barely enough for the bees to get through, so hopefully I'll not have mice getting into the hive and stealing all their food stores.

Though we're early into the winter weather, I'm feeling hopeful about wintering over my bees. At least they're still here at this point. The next four months will really be the test, though.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A First

Flat tire. First time. Happened sometime overnight while parked inside the shop. Already running late for work. No time to change out the tube. No worries. Just look up. Three more bikes hanging from the rafters. Hmmmmm. Which one to ride? The trusty blue cruiser it is.

During all my years of riding, I've never had a flat tire while out riding. Even as I went from Yorktown, VA to San Francisco, CA, I didn't have to stop by the side of the road to change out a tube. What are the odds? One of the other cyclists had a flat nearly every day, or so it seemed anyways. On one occasion, he had two flats within a couple of hours and didn't have a second spare, so I gave him one of mine. I've often wondered why one person has so many flats while another never has any. I do try to check my tires every day, making sure they're free of debris. I give them a good looking over, examining them closely for cracks, missing chunks of rubber, or anything that I might have picked up during a ride. So far this has served me well. I have changed out tires that have become worn and are just a whisper away from becoming a shredded mess. When I change out the tires, I change out the tubes just to have peace of mind.

Today, on the ride home at lunch to let the puppy out, I found myself having to maneuver around several trucks parked smack dab in the middle of the trail. Workers were busy trimming tree limbs away from the utility lines running alongside the trail. Most of the trees are Orange Osage, and they have some nasty thorns on their branches, so not only did I have to wind my way around orange cones and large "Tree Work Ahead" signs placed--guess where--smack dab in the middle of the trail, but I also had to be sure to avoid the branches and twigs lying across the pavement. I'll be surprised if I didn't pick up a thorn along the way. I might end up with a second flat waiting for me in the morning.

Thankfully my first flat happened right here at home. Part of me isn't surprised. I've been riding on that tire and tube for 5 years now. I'd have to say I certainly got my money's worth out of both.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Power of Writing

During my 15 years at my current position, I've had the opportunity to propose a special topics in English class to be listed on the schedule, and each time, though enrollment was on the lean side, the classes were given the go ahead. As such, I had a wonderful semester of reading and talking about literature of Golf. I had another semester of hashing out issues brought about through the readings for a Sports Literature class. While both of those classes were fun and gave me the chance to share my love for sport as well as my love of reading with students, they didn't leave me walking out of class at the end of the day with goosebumps like happened to me today.

This semester, I've had the pleasure of working with just a handful of students who signed up for a class on writing memoir. With only five students in the class, I can spend a lot of time with each, reading as they add to their memoir and giving immediate feedback to help them move further into their work. One particular student in the class I met last semester through another instructor, and after getting to know her a bit, I believed she would benefit from taking the memoir class and told her so. She wondered what she could possibly get from writing her memoir, to which I responded she'd have the opportunity to work through some issues in a safe environment. That's all it took for her to say yes.

The first week of class, I had the students write scenes for five different moments from their lives. From those five scenes, they had to choose one to use as the basis for their memoir. One student chose to go with the roller-coaster ride that has been her relationship with her boyfriend over the last seven years. Another student chose to write about finding then losing who he believes could have been the love of his life. The student I encouraged to sign up for the course decided to tackle the death of her brother, a subject that causes her much distress and difficulty talking about even after nine years of him being gone. I was afraid her decision might cause her to sink into a place of not being able to write, but I decided to let her go with it.

The following class period, this student came in with seven pages of her memoir. After workshopping her piece in class, she took her work and continued writing. Over the past eleven weeks, this student has been adding to and revising her memoir, very willingly taking my advice and that of her peers. Today, her memoir is nearly 20 pages. It offers a poignant glimpse of how the death of her brother at the age of 16 impacted her mother, her father, his friends, but mostly her. The reader learns about the close relationship between the writer and her brother, how he knew no enemies, and how his death meant others might continue living through the donation of his organs. It is in this vein that the piece ends with: "There was a point that night where I so badly wanted to ask if I could hear Dean's heart one more time, but considering I just met him and I barely knew him I felt awkward asking, but it kept going through my mind I just have to listen to his heart I just have to. I never did of course, but to this day I would love to go to his house and listen to the beat of Dean’s heart."

Even now I get goosebumps when reading what this student has written.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Otto's Impact

Before Otto:
  • Got up at 5:15 to begin the day, making sure I was out the door for work by 6:45 to be in my office by 7. Spent anywhere from 45 to 50 minutes preparing whatever needed to be completed for 8 o'clock class.
After Otto:
  • Get up at 5:15 to begin the day, going for a 20 minute walk with Otto and Max before leaving for work at 7:20. Spend 10 to 15 minutes preparing whatever needs to be completed for 8 o'clock class.
Before Otto:
  • Packed lunch to eat in my office between classes.
After Otto:
  • Leave work at midday to let Otto out and have lunch at home, with Otto bouncing around the kitchen.
Before Otto:
  • Had dinner then putzed around the house, cleaning, watching TV, finishing up student papers.
After Otto:
  • Go for a 30 minute walk with Otto and Max after dinner, play in the yard, spend the evening outside.
Before Otto:
  • Cycled to work then home.
After Otto:
  • Cycle to work.
  • Cycle home for lunch.
  • Cycle back to work.
  • Cycle home at end of day.
What a difference one little puppy has made. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fun With Arts and Crafts

It's mid October already, and I'm nowhere near being ready for the arts and crafts show scheduled for mid November. I've just not spent much time in the shop, creating the items I have floating around inside my head. I have all the materials, but so many other things have been going on, not to mention I've simply not felt inclined to open up the shop and work. I do this--this being going through periods of just not having the gumption to create--every now and then, with now being my most recent dry spell. I try not to get too down on myself about not writing, not creating, not cycling. I figure sooner or later the pendulum will swing the other way, and I'll be back to doing each of these things again.


Key ring holder
I did get one item finished today. Well, nearly finished. I just need to complete some small details. I drew out several new items I wanted to create for this year's show, a key ring holder made from tubes, valves, and other miscellaneous bicycle parts being one of them. I have enough valves to make two more holders, and they don't take a lot of time to put together, so I'll go ahead and make a couple more. I think they're pretty cool and would make a nice Christmas gift for someone who loves to ride a bike. I'm hoping those attending the arts and crafts show think the same thing.

Fridge magnets
In addition to the key ring holders, I've been making refrigerator magnets from bicycle chain. I've shaped the chain into letters of the alphabet then attached a small, strong magnet. These have turned out nicely. I put a couple on our fridge just to see how they will hold up. They're the strongest magnets we have in our kitchen, not to mention they have that industrial look I like. Hopefully, others like it, too.

One other new item that I'm having a ton of trouble with is a bracelet made from bicycle tubes. I have several cut to size, with some nice designs to give them an urban-y, edgy look, but I can't get the darn snaps in place. For some reason, I can get the male part of the snap put together, but the female part of the combo doesn't clamp together. I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. I've tried everything and so far nothing has solved my problem. I really like these bracelets and want them for the show, so somehow, some way, I'm going to get the snaps figured out.

Once I get these small items out of the way, I'm going to get busy on the bigger ones. I'll have several one-of-a-kinds, so I'm looking forward to seeing how these go over. Last year, I had the stained glass wheels that sold well, but I'm not doing any this year (at least not at this point; however, I could change my mind). I also had the the wind chimes last year, and they sold well, but I might not do any this year, or if I do, I'll only do three or four. Not to have some items that sold really well last year does seem kind of silly. After all, the end goal is to have products people want to buy, right?

One positive about this year's show is I was given the same space during the show that I had last year, so location is definitely working in my favor. Now, can I create the product that will entice people to visit my space and want to buy?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Fur Ball Named Otto

There are moments when I'm caught by surprise with just how easy it is to love.

Granted, some beings make loving them so simple. Like a puppy. Their needs are few, and as long as those needs are met, the response is usually tenfold the effort to fulfill the need. Wagging tail. Prancing about in happiness. A sloppy tongue eager to lick fingers, hands, a cheek. Snuggling against you as if to say, "You are the best human ever." I've often thought over the years that humans need to take a page from the Book of Dogs--always race to the door to greet whoever might be entering, jump around in excitement and maybe even throw in some "It's so good to see you! It's so good to see you!", then just sit and grin at the person in contentment. How much better would our days be if we all did this with the people in our lives?

I spent an hour and a half today snuggled against a fur ball on the couch, both of us dozing in the quiet house. I could feel the little fur ball's heart beating. His head was lying across my arm. Right then, all was perfect in my world.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sweet Contentment

Sometimes, as I'm cycling along, I'll see something and feel a pull, actually it's usually more than a pull, it's almost like an incessant, unfulfilled need, to record the something through the lens of my camera. Today, that something was a tree. Maybe this tree became my fixation because Angel Baby and I watched Guardians of the Galaxy last evening and I fell in love with Groot (the idea of a tree being, not the actor playing the tree being). Or maybe this particular tree spoke to me because it is so different than the other trees around it, and I tend to be drawn to that which is different. I was once asked, way back in high school, after moving to a new home and thus starting as a freshman at a new school, if I had been popular at my old school. I remember shrugging, saying I wasn't unpopular. The girl asking the question kind of cocked her head at me, giving me a bit of a quizzical look, then said, "I can see why you were popular. You're different." For whatever reason, that comment has stayed with me all these years, and I have come to understand I do search out and embrace the "different."

So I circled this tree, searching for angles, lighting, shadows, composition. I couldn't get enough of the wispy, somewhat swirly clouds in the background, thinking they were singing hallelujah just for this tree because they could see the gloriousness of it. I stood near the trunk, underneath the lowest branch, and admired the red leaves mingling with the still green leaves. When I lowered my camera, when I turned to face the trunk, I could feel the vibrations of life. And in those vibrations, I experienced a sweet contentment with where I was right at that moment. There was no other place I needed to be, no other place I wanted to be except right there, beside a beautiful work of nature.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nearly Fall

Fall announced its presence during the very early hours Thursday morning, seeming to me to be trying to overtake Summer. When I set off for my commute to work, the temp was a chilly 53 degrees, a bit of a change from the mid to high 70's and 90% humidity we've been having. I pulled out my light gloves to keep my mitts from getting chilled during the ride, but I didn't do anything for my ears, and by the time I reached work, my poor ears were aching. Summer is definitely limping towards the finish line this second week of September.

While I love summer and the energy that seems to explode with the sun and heat of June, July, and August, fall truly owns my heart. The cool mornings and evenings that call for pulling on a comfy sweatshirt, the crisp air that reaches out and tweaks my nose, the snuggling under the quilt because the windows are open at night, and the sitting around a pit fire with family and friends (and a good pale ale) rank right up there as a few of my favorites things in life. I like the slowing down, the energy of the summer months waning. I feel like just sitting quietly for extended periods of time is perfectly okay to do, so I indulge in doing just that.

One other thing that is now on my list of favorite things in life is the bees. After the class I attended last Sunday, learning how to prepare my colony for winter, I've spent some time examining my hive and taking a few steps to getting it ready for colder weather. The first thing I did was remove the super. There was no honey in it, so I decided to remove it and take the frames out so I could place a top feeder on the hive. Then I put the empty super box on the feeder. I pressed two sugar patties on the screens along with a jar of sugar syrup in the top feeder before replacing the top. When I returned to the hive late Tuesday afternoon and peeked inside, I found the patties almost completely consumed and all of the sugar water gone! I was a little surprised with how hungry the bees seem to be as I sat quietly nearby and watched them return to the hive the other evening, and so many came in with packed pollen sa
cs. Some had light yellow pollen. Some had a dark yellow pollen. I was told it won't hurt to feed them even if they are still bringing in pollen, so I'm going to continue giving them patties and syrup just to help out the cause.

I'm going to be honest--I'm afraid the bees might not make it through the winter. I tried to find the queen but didn't see her. Granted, I only pulled out a few frames from each box. While I've overcome a lot of the fear I've held about getting into the hive, pulling out frames, and generally just being amidst the bees, I still have some fear. At this point, the fear isn't so much for myself. It's for the bees, especially the queen. I'm afraid of accidentally killing her. I know I need to find her, so I'm going to give it a go again next weekend if the weather is good. I just keep thinking she has to be there. Otherwise, the colony would go elsewhere. The girls are working hard to bring in the pollen, so the fact they are working and building up stores makes me hopeful. Still, I'd like to actually see the queen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Smell of Possibility

About three weeks ago, I peeked into the hive to see if anything was happening in the super. I found some bees milling about, but the frames were empty. Being as it was heading towards mid August, I figured getting any honey for us to feast on this season just wasn't going to happen. I was happy to see the frames in the deep covered, with lots of bee activity. This gives me hope that the bees will be comfortable through the winter, but just to be sure, I signed up for another class, one that will go into how to help the bees make it through a tough winter. That class is this upcoming Sunday, and I'm getting excited about attending and learning more.

This evening, I went back to the hive to clean out the tall grass that has grown up around it. Though the grass is pretty and provides nice cover, it does block my viewing enjoyment. There's just something soothing about watching the bees work, and I couldn't watch from the back deck because of the grass. So I began pulling the grass out. Slowly. Carefully. Watching the bees ignore me. Then I got my first whiff. At first I thought it was the oregano plant that has been in that part of the garden for the last three or four years. It nestled against the rosemary bush that had grown tall and wide and filled the air with its wonderful piney scent until this year. Last winter was so cold and snowy for so long that the rosemary didn't have a chance. With great sadness, I had to pull it out, leaving the oregano plant by itself. But what I was smelling definitely wasn't oregano.

This smell was slightly sweet.

Slightly musky.

Slightly spicy.

Slightly . . . hmmmm, what exactly was that smell?

I couldn't put my finger on just one element of the scent that continued to tease me.

Then I lifted the lid off the hive. I had to know if any honey was in the works in the super. Once the outer cover was off, I pried the inner cover off and set it to the side. When I leaned over to look into the hive, a warmth wafted up from the depths, lifting the scent I had noticed earlier to greet me. I'd just gotten my first dose of the beehive smell. I wanted to stand there and simply inhale, and I did for a moment. I then checked the frames. No honey.

The beehive smell was enough. It, much like watching the bees come and go, offered something akin to reassurance. That even though a life, even if only a rosemary bush, might sadly come to an end, I still have vivid memories of its fullness and its mouth-watering scent that make me happy when I think about it. That even though summer is approaching its end, I still have pictures of the landscapes, the wildlife, and the flowers that brought me so much joy as I pedaled alone along country roads. That even though there's no honey in the super, the possibility . . . yeah, the possibility . . . of having a bounty next summer is great.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sneaking Around

For much of the summer, Funny Delightful Son's girlfriend, a petite, pretty, quiet though funny when she does speak young lady, came to hang out at our house without her mother's permission. I'm pretty sure her mother had no idea Petite Pretty Girlfriend was sneaking around to visit FDS. They would watch TV or sit at the dining room table and play cards or go for bike rides. It is so completely obvious the two simply enjoy being together and truly like one another.

Last week, after another two weeks of being down due to the mono, Funny Delightful Son began feeling better, and to perk him up a bit, Petite Pretty Girlfriend arrived one afternoon to deliver a care package of fun foods. She wasn't to stay long, but she ended up staying several hours. When she returned home, she was informed she wasn't to see Funny Delightful Son for the rest of the week. Both were crushed.

In the meantime, in an attempt to keep busy, Funny Delightful Son received the components he'd ordered to convert his recurve bow into a bow he could use for fishing. He got everything into place, did some practice shots, then announced he was ready to give it a try with real fish. We made plans for a trip to the I&M Canal where the Asian carp has taken over and is considered a nuisance, and FDS asked if Petite Pretty Girlfriend could go along. I had no objections, but when Other Mother was asked, her response was no. She didn't want her daughter in the same space as Hubby. When she was assured Hubby would not be part of the outing, she relented and allowed PPG to go (Hubby did go--I put my foot down and said enough).

Early Sunday morning, we left for the canal. The day was beautiful. Sunny. Breezy. Perfect for fishing. We arrived at the canal, and within minutes FDS was drawing back his bow to try and shoot a carp. We could see a large group of carp, so it seemed like skewering one would be cake. After his initial shot, though, they all disappeared, apparently going further beneath the surface to avoid becoming impaled. FDS waited and waited for the fish to reappear, but they didn't. He then got the idea to just shoot into the water, thinking there were so many fish that the odds of hitting one was high. He was right. It didn't take long to hit one. By late afternoon, he had three fish on ice in the cooler.

We returned home, hot, sweaty, and stinking of fish. We all wanted a shower. Including Pretty Petite Girlfriend. So we all took showers. Then Pretty Petite Girlfriend went home. And Other Mom became furious. She informed Pretty Petite Girlfriend that showering at our house was inappropriate. She accused her and FDS of having sex. Apparently, Hubby and I allow a free-for-all in our home. As punishment, Pretty Petite Girlfriend cannot come into town to meet up somewhere with FDS for a month, and she is not allowed to go on family outings with us for a year. When I was informed of Other Mom's mandates, all I could do was shake my head.

I've been staying out of the whole Other Mom mess, but part of me feels like it's time to step up and let my voice be heard. I feel like Other Mom is making assumptions about me, Hubby, and FDS that are completely unfounded and even leaning towards being cruel and hurtful. I'm not sure how to go about making my voice heard, but with some thought, I'll figure it out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Secret Comes Out

So I thought about the cookout Other Mom wanted to have to, per her words, "further evaluate" Hubby. I kept this to myself, not cluing Hubby in on the issue as I knew what his response would be. I really didn't want to go to him and say, "Oh, by the way, Other Mom thinks you're childish to the point of perhaps putting her daughter in harm's way if she were to come over to our house." Honestly, when Funny Delightful Son told me Other Mom thinks Hubby is childish, I did laugh. He is. That's a given. All of us at one time or another over the years have looked at Hubby and said, "How old are you? 12?" But he's never, ever done anything to put any of us in harm's way. He's just a big goof. Our big goof.

Two weeks after prom, we traveled to Tennessee to visit family and attend my nephew's high school graduation. Late Saturday morning, because we had some time before having to be at the party, we cruised my old grad school haunts so the kids could see where I spent several years of my life. We then found a lovely restaurant in the old downtown area, one with an outdoor patio area graced with large, beautiful trees shading the tables, and we decided to have lunch. While enjoying alligator bites and pesto grilled chicken, the subject of Funny Delightful Son's girlfriend came up. Hubby inquired as to why she hadn't been over to the house for some time.

Funny Delightful Son: "Because she can't."

Hubby: "What do you mean she can't?"

Funny Delightful Son (who at this time was suffering from his second bout of mono and was not in a good mood): "Just that. She's not allowed to come over to our house."

I could see the confusion on Hubby's face, so I took the reins and explained Other Mom's concerns. Just as I had suspected he would, and I totally understand why he did, Hubby became angry. Indignant. Even angrier. For the rest of the day. We discussed the issue at lunch, after lunch, at the graduation party, after the graduation party, during the trip to the home of my sister-in-law, on the return trip to the hotel. I reached the point where I didn't want to talk about it any longer. Funny Delightful Son didn't want to discuss it any longer. A heavy mood invaded what should have been a fun trip.

One thing we all agreed on was that we would not attend this "evaluation" cookout.

After returning home, Funny Delightful Son and his girlfriend would go out, maybe to fly kites or fish at the lake or kayak or spend time at her house. Then, one day, his girlfriend showed up and stayed for several hours. Being a little surprised, I asked if she had been given the go ahead to hang out at our place. She shook her head no, saying her mom didn't know she was there. I figured this wasn't a good thing but decided to stay out of it. I've stayed out of it for over two months, thinking her mom would lighten up, but I was informed a few days ago that this isn't the case at all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Saga Begins

Back in May, Funny Delightful Son attended his first high school prom. Leading up to this day, Funny Delightful Son prepared carefully: making sure his tux fit perfectly, scrutinizing the flowers selected for his date's corsage, and cleaning the car so his date could ride in style. The young lady he was attending prom with had caught his eye from the beginning of the school year, and he wanted prom to be perfect.

To start the evening, Funny Delightful Son and his date met up with friends at the grandparents' home of one of the young ladies of the group. There, they were going to have dinner before leaving for prom. Prior to dinner, we parents took pictures of our kids all decked out for the special occasion. It was just minutes until the picture taking was to commence that the Saga began.

While the young people were gathered on the back deck, admiring the glitzy dresses and the colorful corsages, the parents were inside, chatting about what a lovely May afternoon we were having. The host, an older gentleman, offered all of us a beer while we waited for the young people give the signal they were ready for pictures. Some of us laughed and declined, and Hubby, because he tries to make jokes out of every situation, said something along the lines of already having had several and where was the keg for the kids? The host laughed, as did some of the others, but one parent took great exception to Hubby's attempt at a joke--Funny Delightful Son's date's mom.

Prom went well for Funny Delightful Son. Then, the following Tuesday, after I picked him up from school, I could tell something was up when he volunteered to go grocery shopping with me. On the way to the store, he proceeded to tell me that his date's mother wanted Hubby and me to go to their home for a cookout. I thought, sure, sounds good. The next comment, though, caught me by surprise. Seems the cookout was to be a means for his date's mother to "further evaluate" Hubby. Apparently, the comment he'd made about drinking had bothered her so much that she found him "childish" and a bad influence. She was afraid her daughter might not be safe in coming to our home.

I went from laughing over the absurdity of the situation to being angry to being insulted. I thought who the eff does this woman think she is? I told Funny Delightful Son I found Other Mom's request completely insulting and no, Hubby and I would not attend the cookout. To this, Funny Delightful Son said, "Mom, I really, really like this girl. I hope to keep seeing her." I considered this and responded that I would do it for him, but I couldn't promise being nice. To this, Funny Delightful Son said, "Mom, I really, really like this girl." The earnest look in his eyes showed this to be true. I said I'd think about it and let him know.

Stay tuned for Part II of The Saga.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Another Helmet Rant

Being a cyclist, I read a lot of articles about cycling and I listen to other cyclists talk about cycling, sometimes joining in the conversation. The articles I seek out range from outfitting the bike for long, touring rides to cycling safely alongside motorists to what to wear. Most often, I gain something helpful from the articles. Even the discussions with others can be fun as cycling really is fun, but I've come to realize I have very little patience for an argument I hear a lot: everyone should always wear a helmet. The "always wear a helmet" mantra seems to seep into every casual conversation with family, friends, and the women's cycling group of which I am a member (though I tend to stand on the sidelines with this group--that's another post for another time), and this is okay in and of itself. What's not okay is the snarky, snide, "those who don't wear helmets are stupid" tone that goes along with the conversation. Most often I ignore these comments, but it's becoming more and more difficult not to respond.

I get that helmets protect the noggin. I do. That being said, I don't think I should have to wear a helmet every single time I'm on the bike. And I sure as heck don't think others should take it upon themselves to tell me how stupid I am for cycling sans helmet. If you are that person who feels the need to tell me I'm an idiot for taking such a risk, think about these four things before you open your mouth.

1.  Falling in the home can be fatal. In fact, the National Safety Council suggests that upwards of 25,000 people died from falling in their homes in 2009 (I know, I know--this was 5 years ago. I tried to find stats for 2013 but came up empty handed. I'm sure a more current number would be even higher anyway). This is scary stuff. We're in danger in our own homes! Should everyone wear a helmet while walking from the kitchen to the living room? Should everyone wear a helmet while taking a shower?

2. Just walking along, minding your own business can be fatal. Yeah! I know! Mind-blowing! Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, in 2011, 4432 pedestrians lost their lives. Should every pedestrian wear a helmet while window shopping and especially when crossing the street? Not to mention those open manholes. They really put a damper on a person trying to text while walking.

3. Over 30,000 people die in car crashes each year. When looking at the info offered through the CDC, of these 30,000 deaths, over 7500 of them were due to traumatic brain injuries suffered in the car crash. Hmmmmmm. This is a real head-scratcher. That's a lot of people. So why do motorists as well as their passengers not wear helmets?

4. In 2012, 726 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents. The number of cyclists deaths represents 2% of all traffic fatalities. Just 2%! I know I have a tough time when it comes to numbers, but this seems like a really low number in the big scheme of things.

I do realize many of the cyclists who lost their lives had traumatic head injuries. It's probably very likely they also suffered from severe internal injuries. How could they not? A heavy moving object striking a human body will create irreparable harm. A helmet isn't going to help in these instances. No one, though, likes to talk about the damage done to a person's chest cavity, liver, or kidneys. For some reason, these injuries are overlooked in favor of trying to drive home the importance of wearing a helmet. I'd really like to know how many of these deaths were due to traumatic bodily injury. A clearer picture of the injuries in general would be very helpful.

Cycling really is a very safe activity. Just look at Portland and what it has accomplished not just one year, but several years. In continuing to press the idea that cyclists should always wear helmets, the underlying message presented is that cycling is dangerous and injury is likely. That's just not true. In fact, if you look at the numbers and how the head injuries occurred, removing those due to car-cyclist collision shows just how minuscule the number of deaths due to traumatic head injury truly is. Also, in advancing the argument that cyclists should always wear helmets, all the responsibility for safety is put on the cyclist. Motorists are given a pass. Instead of saying all cyclists should wear a helmet, maybe we should instead say motorists and cyclists should share the road, all following the rules of the road, being respectful to one another to ensure the safety of all.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Farmgirl Stuck in the City

The garden is bursting. The tomatoes are ripening, giving me my first tomato sandwich of the summer. The herbs are tall, full, and giving off their wonderful scents. The second seeding of lettuce has reached the almost-ready to pick for salads stage. Even the bush bean plants I bought--sickly, near death plants I was sure were too far gone to be saved--are full of lovely, long beans. And the seeds I meticulously planted in egg cartons back in March? The ones that I thought were duds and after ten weeks of watering along with setting out in the warm sun only to get not even a hint of anything growing? The ones I ended up throwing into the compost box? Well, I now have a hodge-podge of zucchini, squash, and tomatoes where I spread the compost in early June. I'm hoping the zucchini and squash produce, as they are thriving and flowering beautifully, but the tomato plants have a lot of catching up to do to produce. The cool weather definitely isn't helping, but there's still August and September warmth to come, hopefully giving that last, little push to all the plants. I love walking through my gardens, thinking about how the tomatoes can be a part of our next meal, how the cucumbers might become a lotion, and how to preserve all the herbs.

Last summer I had several hot pepper plants from which I picked tons of hot peppers. I had no idea what to do with them as I've never cooked with them before, and Hubby isn't a fan of anything that might have a little heat to it. Those peppers ended up in the compost box. This year, I vowed to do something with the peppers, something that I know will be eaten by the majority of us. Funny Delightful Son and I love grilled sandwiches made with goat cheese, strawberries, lettuce, and pepper jelly, and he even turned his girlfriend on to this tasty combination, so I decided to make hot pepper jelly. This morning, I spent several hours in the kitchen, chopping, measuring, and cooking to end up with six half pints of yummy pepper jelly. I used a recipe I found online as it had a pinch of saffron as an ingredient, and since I have some saffron that I bought awhile back, I decided to give it a go. When all the ingredients were mixed, simmering, and nearing the stage of ladling into the jars, I tested it. The jelly definitely lives up to its name: Naughty and Nice Pepper Jelly. The zing and sweet together create a scrumptious treat.

To date, I've made sour cherry jam, strawberry jam, cucumber-ginger jelly, and hot pepper jelly. I've reached the point where I need a space for all my goodies. I have a spot just off the kitchen/dining area that could become a spot for shelves just to display jars of deliciousness, so now I'm trying to figure out how to go about getting shelves put into place. I'm thinking small wooden crates might be the answer. Time to go junkin'. I'd love to find some soda crates or vegetable crates that can be turned into shelves. Could be a bit pricey, though, so maybe just making some from reclaimed wood is a better, more affordable idea. I do wonder, hmmmmmmmm, if I went to the grocery stores around town and asked about their fruit and veggie boxes, if I might find what I'm looking for. Maybe.

Next up is the tomatoes. I'm envisioning salsa, spaghetti sauce, whole tomatoes, tomato paste, and dried tomatoes. I know some of these require a pressure canner, something I've never used so don't have, but I could go the freezing route to avoid investing in the pressure canner. We do have the freezer space since we stumbled upon a brand new freezer at a yard sale a few months ago, still in the box, and got a great deal on it. Part of the freezer space is reserved for grass-fed beef, an investment I'm determined to make sooner or later. All of this would be much easier if I had my own farm, a place and space to raise my own chickens, beef, and goats. The animals along with the gardens and growing fruit would give us so much of what we need. I know of a 2.5 acre property available right now . . ..

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Preserving the Garden Bounty

Last week was my best cycling week to date. I covered 503 miles, meeting some really nice people, eating some really delicious pancakes, and laughing over the antics of some really cute puppies (are there any other kind of puppies?). I traded in the road bike for my heavier hybrid on two of the days, mostly because I was too lazy to change out the road bike's front tire that was showing some splits in the rubber, but the two days on the hybrid were awesome. Because it is a heavier bike, I can't go as fast. Being forced to slow down was good as this has been my goal for the last two years. I find myself falling back into the mindset of needing to keep the speed up, so riding the hybrid forced me to just settle in and let the miles slowly pass by. The two days on the hybrid are two of my favorite rides so far this summer.

Now, only two weeks of my summer self-contained ride remain. Two weeks. I try not to think about being nearly finished, inching closer to having to return to work. To help with this, I've been immersing myself in fun projects. I made a wind chime out of Grey Goose bottles for a friend. Out of the 16 bottles she gave me to work with, I managed to get 5 with clean cuts. The rest ended up with cracks running up or down from the score, making them throwaways. From the discards, I played a bit with cutting some rings and firing them in the new microwave kiln I purchased, but that was a total fail. The bottle's glass is so thick there's no way to melt it down in the little kiln I bought. The glass broke inside the kiln and left a brown ring on the kiln base. The wind chime I managed to put together is kind of cool. My friend's reaction when I sent her a picture of it was, "Gorgeous!"

I also turned my attention to making refrigerator pickles out of the cucumbers piled high on the kitchen island. I've been going on the idea that my family doesn't like pickles. Every time I buy them, they sit in the fridge and end up being thrown out two years after they were opened. Then, Funny Delightful Son informed me the other day that he, in fact, does like pickles and doesn't know why I don't buy them. So I searched for an easy recipe, one that didn't involve water baths or pressure cookers. I found a simple one and set to work. Most of the cukes are now pickles. This morning, I cracked open a jar of pickles to try them. Let's just say I had a tough time not sitting down and eating the entire jar right then and there. Not quite the reaction from Funny Delightful Son, though. He tried one and said, "Too sweet." What?!? So it looks like I'll be eating the pickles all by myself.

With still more cucumbers on my kitchen island, I decided to try a recipe for cucumber ginger jelly. The reviews of the recipe raved about how delicious the jelly is with cream cheese on crackers, so being the cream cheese lover that I am, I had to see if the reviews were true. When the process was over, and the jelly in the jars, I swiped a finger through what remained in the pot. The slight ginger pop along with the soothing cucumber create a very tasty combination, the kind that makes one say, "Ohhhhh, that's good." I encouraged Funny Delightful Son and his girlfriend to taste the jelly. Both looked at me like I was asking them to suck on lemons. That look vanished, however, as soon as the jelly crossed their lips. Both smiled, enjoying the surprise that is cucumber ginger jelly. Then, Lovely Beautiful Daughter and her boyfriend sampled the jelly. They, too, exclaimed over the deliciousness. When I offered them a jar of the jelly to take home with them, the boyfriend was quick to take the jar. I'm thinking another round of cucumber ginger jelly might be in order.

With the cucumbers taken care of, I turned my attention to the basil. This is the first summer I put the basil in one of the raised beds rather than in a pot. I'm glad I made the change. I've never had such beautiful basil plants before. Like last year and the year before, I'll dry some of it, but I also wanted to do something more with the leaves. I found a pesto recipe and got to work. Funny Delightful Son sat at the bar, watching me try to figure out the food processor, mostly laughing at my inability to put the lid on correctly, and Angel Baby came down to watch after getting a whiff of the pine nuts roasting on the stove. When I removed the lid after combining all the ingredients, both boys tested the concoction and approved. We ended up making pesto-mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and I had plenty of pesto left to put into an ice cube tray for freezing and using later. I'm already thinking about a noodle, roasted tomato and mushroom, pesto dish for dinner tomorrow.

I'm pretty happy with figuring out what to do with the cucumbers. I really didn't want them to just end up in the compost box. I want to preserve what I grow, and I am getting much better at it, but I still have a lot to learn. With the tomatoes starting to ripen, I'll be busy preserving them in a variety of ways, hopefully putting different kinds of sauces in our freezer. Who knows, maybe one cold winter day, we'll be eating chili made from my garden tomatoes along with crackers spread with cream cheese and cucumber jelly.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Being a Long Distance Cyclist

Okay, summer can slow down. Seriously, how can it be July 12th already? I've still got so many things I want to do and only 4 weeks to do them before having to return to work. Gahhh!

Most of my summer has been spent cycling as I signed up to ride as self-contained for Bike the US for MS. While I didn't raise as much money as I had hoped, I did raise the $2000 that Bike the US for MS suggested. I can't thank my family and friends enough for their support and generosity. I know my $2100 isn't much, but it along with the donations raised by all the others cycling for Bike the US for MS adds up to nearly $300,000 this year. That money goes to research centers in Virginia, Ohio, and Washington, and it also goes to building ramps, renovating bathrooms, and making other home improvements to offer easier access for those living with MS. I'll never forget our service days during the 2012 ride--cleaning, mowing, washing windows, rearranging furniture, installing handholds, and sometimes just sitting and talking with the individual we were working for--and how thankful these individuals were that we gave a day of our ride to help. I know I walked away from those service days feeling like I was doing something purposeful. Though I don't have service days this summer, I still have that feeling of doing something purposeful each day I set out and ride. I know I'm riding to fulfill the generosity of my family and friends.

My favorite rides so far this summer have been the longer rides. I went to Paxton, a cute town still holding on to the small-town feel. I sat on the curb of Main Street, downing a sports drink and eating a candy bar before beginning the ride home, ending with 105 miles for the day. Then I went to Lincoln, a bit bigger than Paxton, and sat outside a gas station to eat a sandwich before moseying around the side streets a bit and finding the new Lincoln Museum. On my way out of Lincoln, I saw a sign telling me I was on the Route 66 Bike Route. I'd actually ridden it into Lincoln, but there'd been no signage to tell me this. I followed the same route back, ending the day with 102 miles. Then I went to Pekin, to the west, and found a beautiful bike trail that wound its way through the town. I also found the "World's Greatest Sundial" in Pekin and enjoyed spending a bit of time there before returning home, an 81 mile day. In each of these towns, I leave a Bike the US for MS calling card on a bulletin board (and I noticedwhen I returned to Gibson City last week that the one I'd left there had been taken--hopefully, whoever took it visited the Bike the US for MS website and made a donation). I have plans for other long rides over the next four weeks, and even what I'm calling an "EPIC!" ride, so still more cycling to come.

The only downside to the cycling this summer is riding alone. I invited everyone to ride with me, but no takers. I know I could ride with the women's group here in town, but they usually don't go as long as I like to go. Though I prefer to ride alone, every now and then it does get lonely. I have run into other cyclists while out, and usually we strike up conversations as we ride along, but I end up going one way and the other cyclist goes his way. At these times, I think of Eleanor Moseman, who cycled throughout Asia, and a comment she made: "[W]hat the long distance woman finds . . . is love for herself. Learning and reassuring herself . . . that she can survive and live as a solo entity, without a partner at her side to help her make decisions and keep her motivated." I have found cycling alone has made me realize how capable I truly am, and I am definitely more confident in myself, whatever I undertake. I'm not sure everyone appreciates my confidence, but I know my kids do, and that's what matters to me.

Oh, Summer, my Love,
Your warmth fills up my being,
spilling out as smiles.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Help From All that is Around Me

Three years ago, I completed my first century ride, the Swedish Days ride that's a couple hours drive north of us. Hubby and I drove up the evening before and spent the night so I could get some decent sleep before having to get up early the next morning. We planned to ride together for the first 25 miles or so, at which time Hubby would return to the start and wait on me to finish the 100 miles. After Hubby turned back, I rode on alone, being sure to follow the cue sheet and arrows on the roads, as well as making sure to stop at the rest areas to eat and drink. The final rest area was about 15 or 20 miles from the finish, and after eating some fruit and a cookie, I started off to complete the ride. Nine miles out, I turned to go east, the final leg of the 100 miles, and found myself facing a nasty headwind. I slogged on, determined I was going to finish. I finally reached the parking lot where Hubby was waiting, and as I neared the truck, I was overcome with emotion, something that had never happened to me before. I suddenly found it very difficult to breathe, and all I wanted to do was cry. I had trained for weeks to complete 100 miles on my bike, and I knew I could do 50 or 60 miles with no problem. 100 miles, though, was a completely different story. It took all I had physically and mentally.

Since that first century ride, I've completed several more, one where I managed to maintain a 17 mph speed despite some gnarly hills (at the end, in the parking lot, another cyclist complimented me on my cycling, saying I rocked because I rode alone, and even though his group passed me, I always caught them at the rest stops), and one where the hills were known to make even the best have to dismount and walk their bike to the top (I didn't--I love hills). I even did a metric century on my mountain bike, a ride that was 90% gravel roads and hilly, hilly, hilly. I finished that ride feeling absolutely worn out, but so incredibly happy at having accomplished such a difficult task. After each of these rides, I didn't have the same reaction I had after the first century ride. Rather, I felt strong, capable, and accomplished.

Yesterday, I felt that same sense of strength, ability, and accomplishment as I completed a second consecutive day of 100+ miles. Friday, I rode 105 miles. Yesterday, I rode 102 miles. The toughest mileage happened during day 2, around mile 90, when it began to sink in just how tired I was. My wrists hurt, making me want to constantly change hand position on the bars. My triceps ached from being in the same position for 5 hours. My thighs were burning and thankful for each pause in pedaling (my cadence really suffered at this point since I was coasting so much). I knew I had another 45 minutes to go, and I knew I had to get out of my own head if I was going to finish the ride in a happy state of mind. That's when a line from my favorite movie--Michael--popped into my head: "Listen to the earth." Michael (John Travolta) says this as he's sitting on a farming implement in a field, with Sparky the dog sitting next to him. I figured the line popped into my head for a reason, so I turned my attention to what was around me rather than what was going on with me.

I heard the leaves whispering in the breeze blowing out of the south. I heard a robin sing what my mom called their "rain is coming" song (and she was right--last evening we received a light, steady rain). I heard the warning shrill of the red-winged black bird as I neared its nest. I heard the panicked chirp of a chipmunk as it darted into the tall grass at the edge of the road. I heard the rustle of the corn growing tall under the July sun (much taller than the old "knee-high by the 4th of July" saying I heard as a kid). Before I knew it, I was at the edge of town, just a couple of miles from home. At this point, my Garmin beeped, telling me I'd reached the 100 mile mark. Nothing could take the smile from my face. Even as I pulled into the driveway and unclipped from the pedals, I was still smiling. With the help of what is all around me, I finished a task I've been wanting to do but wasn't sure I could.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Growing Fruit Mistakes

My gardens are loving this wet, hot, humid weather. The tomatoes and cucumbers are spreading, growing out and over the sides of their raised boxes. I've had to stake the tomatoes in creative ways to keep them in check. The cucumbers have a trellis to climb, and they're making their way up, looking healthy and producing beautifully. That said, the one garden that is truly out of control is the fruit garden. The raspberry vines are taking over, pushing their way into the designated grape space, and the strawberry vines have crept into all four corners, not to be outdone by the wandering raspberry vines. I spent some time in the fruit garden last evening to try and make a dent in the chaos, but there's plenty more to be done.

Last summer, I had more raspberries than I could handle. I made black raspberry jam, red raspberry jam, and red raspberry vinaigrette. The family enjoyed the black raspberry jam but didn't appreciate the red raspberry jam like I did. I adore red raspberries. When I see them, the memory of riding my horse along a country road where the berries grew wild comes to mind. I remember feeling like I'd found a treasure. I slid off my horse and picked berries, popping them into my mouth, delighting in their warm berry scent combined with the sweet taste. The red raspberry takes me back to being 14, exploring country roads by horseback.

My raspberries this summer, though, have no blooms, no fruit. I have lots of vines. The leaves are a vibrant green. Nothing looks amiss except it appears there will be no berries this year. To figure out what is going on, I read a few articles. I found out I am the culprit; I went too far in pruning back the canes last fall. This year's producing canes grew last year and should have been left alone. Oops. On the bright side, next year's crop should be fantastic.

Last summer, the grape vines produced beautiful clusters of grapes. I watched the grapes grow all  summer long, going from being tiny green pea-sized fruits to glorious purple marble-sized fruits. I patiently waited until they were at the perfect stage for picking, and the day I went out to fill my bucket, every single grape was gone. Something beat me to them. I figure a raccoon had gorged itself, enjoying the sweet treat I had watched over all summer.

My grapes this summer, however, have no clusters forming. The vines are strong. The leaves are huge and green. Everything looks healthy. Yet again, after reading up on grapevines, I learned I went too far in pruning last fall. This year's producing vines had developed last summer, and I cut them off. Oops again. Next year . . . next year will be a bumper crop!

Each summer I learn from mistakes I made the summer before. The good news is the plants are healthy and doing well, so there's no need to replace them. By the looks of it, I better start prepping now for the amount of berries I'm going to have next summer. One of my to-do jobs is to create a space for my canned foods; I might get started on that now so when I have jars of jams and other goodies, I'll have the place to put them.

On a side note, today's ride took me northwest, to new roads and scenery. On my way back, I had the pleasure of witnessing this.


Monday, June 30, 2014

From One Little Tree

I thought it only appropriate to write June's poem about cherries since I spent several days of the month picking the small, juicy fruit. From those cherries, I made a cobbler that my brother completely enjoyed, letting everyone at the dinner table know this by the look of sheer delight on his face and the mmmmmm's he made with each bite. From those cherries, I made a peace offering to the mother of Funny Delightful Son's girlfriend (long story--kind of funny but at the same time not so funny--which I will write about soon). I haven't received any response from her concerning the cherries, but I did hear from Funny Delightful Son that she made a pie from them the day she received them. From those cherries, I bartered with a friend, giving her some in exchange for greens from her garden. And from those cherries, I made jam. Sweet, pie-filling in a jar jam that I have shared with Lovely Beautiful Daughter and good friends. The cherry tree provided a bounty to us this season, and for that I am grateful.


Simple Abundance

The cherry tree planted in the northeast corner of the yard,
near the unpainted picket fence,
after the bitter cold, snowy winter months,
overnight became smothered in white blossoms,
as if someone spent hours
patiently draping garlands of delicate blooms around each branch.
Ten years the tree has been there, offering its round fruit,
first green but with the sun's warmth turns rose then ruby,
ready to be plucked from the stems,
ready to have the pit removed then tossed into a bowl,
where sticky juice pools at the bottom,
and the fruit with its juice are ready
to become cherry pie, cherry cobbler, cherry jam,
even cherry infused grappa resting in a cupboard,
the cherries, a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, red wine
with brown sugar meshing under cover of cool darkness,
every three days shaken to release more sour,
imbue more sugar and spice until four weeks pass,
when it will be ready.
One bag of cherries remains, frozen,
to be pulled out when the cherry tree sleeps
under a blanket of snow during the winter months,
to be mixed with sugar, piled into a crust, then baked,
its sweet summer scent chasing away the day's cold.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Smokin' the Bees

I reek. From smoke. But, I did find out the hive is doing okay.

After dinner, I ventured outside to do some gardening. I looked over at the hive and noticed lots of bees outside the hive like I'd seen the other day. Many were coming and going, too, and across the street, I could see quite a few (at least I think they were some of my bees) sort of in a swirling flying pattern. Thankfully, they were maybe 25 or 30 feet in the air, so they weren't going to harm anyone walking by. I decided to go ahead and check the hive to see if anything was amiss inside, like hive beetles. I've been reading up on what could be making the bees act like petulant children, and hive beetles is one of them. I really didn't want to see beetles.

So I donned my awesome astronaut bee suit, stoked the smoker until I had a good stream of smoke floating in the air (actually, I think I went overkill on the smoke--but it did what it's supposed to do), and went to work. Removing the super was easy, and right away, I could tell there wasn't much happening there. That's the part of the hive where the honey I'll take will be created. As of right now, there isn't any. I was a little bummed in seeing this, but I figured from the get-go that this summer I may not get any honey for us. Looks like I was right.

When I went into the box under the super, I could see lots of action happening there. I pulled out a frame from the middle of the box, a frame covered in comb. I checked a couple of the other frames and saw the same thing. What I should have done but didn't was switch the covered frames for those with no comb on them that are on each end of the box. I definitely am going to go back in and do this soon. The good news is I saw no beetles. Just busy, busy bees doing what they're supposed to be doing.

After inspecting that box, I wanted to get at the bottom box. I used my pry tool to loosen the edges of the box, but when I tried to pick it up, I couldn't. It's just too heavy with the comb covering the frames. I now am in a pickle. How am I going to get that box off the one under it? I think I'm going to have to call someone who is much more experienced with beekeeping than I am to come help me.

Seeing that everything seems to be going the way it should be in the hive makes me feel a lot better. I did some more reading after checking the hive, and one article said rainy weather accompanied by heat and high humidity will agitate bees. I'm thinking this might be the reason my bees have seemed so active. We certainly have had rainy, hot, humid weather. Hopefully, the weather will calm down and in response, so will the bees.

The next time I go into the hive, I'll try to get some pictures. The honeycomb is so cool to see, and the fact that the bees have created as much as they have in just 7 weeks is truly something.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Fun

Along with cycling this summer, I've been spending time working on the gardens. For now, I have four raised beds at the east side of the house, a garden spot on the south side of the house, and a fruit garden at the west end of the house. If it were up to me, I'd have the entire north side of the house in raised beds, but that's been a hard sell to the boys, mostly because of the mowing difficulties it would create. I'm not giving up, though. One day, the north side will be raised beds.

So far, the plants I've put in are doing well, even the bush bean plants I bought that seemed all but salvageable. I truly thought I'd wasted nearly $20 on them, but in the good composted soil where I'd buried the fish carcasses from last summer, they are now thriving. We've had enough rain that I haven't had to water, and my rain barrel remains overflowing. A second barrel is on my mind since I could always use the water from it in the fruit garden. There, the grapes are climbing the trellis I put in last summer, each day covering more and more of it. Soon the trellis will be completely covered. The raspberry plants have spread to the point I can't keep up with them. Tomorrow is the designated digging up raspberry plants to thin the patch. Same goes for the strawberries. Vines have spread beyond the little fenced area I made for them, so it's time to curtail their wanderings. To date, I've picked two quarts of strawberries from the small area, enough to make some jam, which is also on tomorrow's schedule.

Cherry jam spread on cream cheese
Unfortunately, it appears the apple trees won't bear this season. My two dwarf trees I planted last summer had their trunks gnawed away by rabbits during the winter. By the time I realized what was happening and wrapped them from further harm, the damage had already been done. I ended up having to replace both trees with new ones, and these have to go through a season or two before they'll produce apples. The one tree that did produce this season is the cherry tree. Lots of cherries. Enough for a cherry cobbler. Enough to infuse grappa to enjoy in a few weeks. Enough to make 8 half pints of jam (which, given the response from Funny Delightful Son when he tasted some, won't last long). Enough to barter with a friend for greens from her garden. And still more in the freezer for a later date, maybe a winter cherry pie to remind us of the warmth of summer.

Another job I need to complete soon is checking on the hive. When I arrived home from my 70 miler today, I looked over at the hive and noticed quite a few bees on the hive and others flying erratically around it. They seemed very agitated. It could have been caused by the weather we've had the last few days--storms, wind, heat then cool then heat again. I checked on them several times throughout the evening and saw they were settling down as the sun set, so hopefully everything is okay. I still want to check the hive, though, to make sure all is the way it should be.

In between doing these summer gardening jobs, I've started a few new bicycle art projects. My hope is to create some pieces for the craft fair later in the year. I had such fun at the craft fair last year I decided to sign up again, and thanks to Lovely Beautiful Daughter and her friend, I have lots of materials to work with. Interesting materials. So stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Week Three of Summer Cycling

I'm now into week three of my summer of cycling throughout central Illinois, and I have all but thrown out the schedule of routes I meticulously laid out for myself. I've completed some of the routes, but given the wind, the rain, and some family hiccups, I just couldn't stay on track. Now, I simply look at the weather right before I start out, determine which way the wind is blowing, and decide on a route based on going into the wind for half the ride. I kind of like the whatever comes my way method of cycling. Some areas are brand new to me, bringing new scenery, roads, and people. So far, I've received nothing but smiles and waves from motorists, and I hope this continues through the rest of the summer.

A young red tailed hawk
This week, I ventured out to a small town I visited about 14 years ago to determine if it might be a place I wanted to settle with the kids. Though I liked the town, it was a bit too far from work, and there really isn't anything there. Not even a gas station. I'd kind of forgotten about the place until the other day when I was deciding on where to cycle. It popped up on the map, so I said, "Why not?" As I cycled south into the area, I wondered why I'd not been that way before. The roads were smooth, with a few hills thrown in here and there to keep things interesting. The fields changed from soy beans to corn to wheat to alfalfa. Creeks cut through the land, giving me bridges to stop on to get a drink and enjoy the swallows stirred by my presence. To date, that ride has been the most pleasant.

Love the white tail!
Today, I decided to venture back that way, but instead of going into the town, I continued south. I had seen four silos side by side the other day, and I wanted to check them out. So I did. I ended up at a church out in the middle of nowhere, so I stopped there, drank some water, then decided to return home. The silos weren't much to admire, just four brown silos in the middle of a field. I could have taken a picture of them, but they just didn't strike me as being photo worthy. I was a bit bummed as I try to get a picture of something on each ride, and at that point, I hadn't seen anything that struck my fancy.

The ride home was tough. I simply haven't been eating enough to keep fuel in the tank for 60+ miles. I know this. Still, I can't bring myself to eat what I need to. I try to eat a good breakfast before starting out, and I always take food with me for along the way, but after two and a half weeks of burning an average of 2300 calories a day, my body is saying, "Hey, you, eat more or I'm going to crap out on you." I really felt this today. I had no gas in the tank by mile 55. I ended up limping home. Once home and showered, I scarfed down a Big Mac and fries, a meal I very rarely eat. My taste buds were very happy campers, and my stomach was saying, "Finally. Now this is a meal, unlike those bananas and multigrain bars you've been eating." I know if I'm going to increase my mileage (I'd like to get to 80 miles consistently) I'm going to have to eat more. So, time to stop worrying about eating too much and eat to make sure my body doesn't crap out on me again.


Though I didn't get a photo today, I did get a short video of a killdeer playing injured to lure me away from her young. I was pedaling along when all the sudden four very young killdeer scattered into the road. I dodged two of them. The frantic parents were busy trying to convince me they were injured, and I was able to get some video of what they do to protect their babies.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Marriage: A Meeting in the Middle?

Monday marked the 9th wedding anniversary for Hubby and me. We went to a nicer restaurant in town to have dinner and celebrate. Unfortunately, what should have been a lovely dinner spiraled downward, each of us unhappy with the other by the time we left the restaurant. One comment Hubby made stayed with me the next few days, and Friday, on our way home from taking Lovely Beautiful Daughter and her boyfriend to the airport (another unfortunate event--they were flying to Boston after learning of the unexpected death of her boyfriend's father), Hubby and I talked further about his comment to me at our anniversary dinner. I told him I was considering writing about it here, and he replied that he would love to see what comments I receive regarding this subject. So, here goes.

My perspective of a marriage is it is a partnership. Each member of the relationship helps the other out simply because, to me, that's what a partnership entails. Including housework. Yeah. This is why our dinner eroded. Housework. My perspective is I am not a maid. I am a wife, mother, teacher, writer, artist, friend, daughter, sister, and cyclist. Nowhere on the list is maid. I work full time, which for a teacher is over 40 hours a week. When I am finished at work, I am not in any way eager to return home to commence cleaning house. But I do because there's always things that need to be done. At times, I get annoyed with having to spend my time cleaning instead of doing other things, especially when someone else has been home but didn't do some of the things that needed to be done. When I said as much to Hubby, his reply was, "I don't like doing housework." And I do? The next comment is what stayed with me: "I only do it so I don't have to listen to you bitch."

Ummmmm. Yeah.

After letting this comment settle, I realized something about my marriage, something I'd been kind of seeing for awhile now but didn't really want to face. My marriage isn't a partnership. It's a relationship in which two people live together but one person doesn't want to have to meet the other halfway. I'm okay with being told my asking for help with housework is bitching. I'm not okay learning the man I married doesn't look at our relationship as a partnership, one in which we do things for each other simply because doing so makes the other happy. When I suggested he is living in the 1950's, that there are men today who take an active role in helping with the housework, Hubby responded by saying I'm wrong, that men today don't do any more housework now than they did in the 1950's.

So there you go. Do men help with housework more today than in the 1950's? Do you know of husbands who take an active role in cleaning and keeping the house in order?