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


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


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.