09 November 2010

Urgent Care

My first question was, "Have you called the police?"

I'd received a call from my husband - my daughter had been involved in an accident coming home from work. Definitive piece of information: I had the car. She was on the bike.

He didn't realize that until I answered his question, "Where are you?"

As it turned out, no one hit her. Thank G-d. She'd braked too hard in the process of missing a pedestrian on the shoulder (she was making a right turn) and gone "AOTK" - family shorthand for "ass over tea kettle."

So, all things considered, it could have been worse. No head trauma, no internal injuries, no hit and run reports. Just a trip to the urgent care clinic and a few pain pills and days off work.

And BTW, she did dent her helmet when she did that tuck-and-roll. We're retiring it. In fact, I think I may have it bronzed. It most likely saved my daughter's incredible brain.

She thought she'd dislocated her left shoulder. Turns out it's a 3rd-degree AC sprain. {Put another way: It could have been better. A broken collarbone is apparently preferable.) But she didn't break her neck, she didn't put her eye out, and she didn't hit the pedestrian -- what more could a mother ask?!

And here, for your edification, are the not-so-gory details of Urgent Care:

(1) I redirected the Parental Taxi from the ER when I learned the worst of it was a shoulder injury. Past experience tells me self-referrals to the ER earn bottom priority on the triage list. I was right. We were home in under an hour and a half -- had we gone to the ER, we'd have still been waiting to be called for paperwork.

(2) One more time (in case I haven't mentioned it lately) -- Dr. Bird at the Baptist East Urgent Care on Shelbyville Road is THE COOLEST. He doesn't get excited, and he doesn't get panicky. He applies exactly the right amount of concern to whatever the situation is, and there you go. And he talks to patients - even purple-haired punk-intellectual types and their marginally old-hippie moms - as though he assumes they know what he's saying. And when we ask him to explain, he doesn't bat an eye. He just does it. No condescension. Just the facts, ma'am. With a little bit o' humor thrown in.

(3) Fee-for-service is totally WRONG. Okay, cost of visit, not too bad. Cost of X-rays, less than I expected. Cost of sling for arm, $29. Cost for nurse to put sling on patient's arm -- are you ready for this? -- $122. That's one hundred twenty-two dollars for about 15 seconds of work. Okay, maybe thirty. Good thing I beat her to it... Jesus H. Roosevelt...

Ms. Tough-as-Nails has quite sensibly called in Wounded for tomorrow's work day. The bakery can probably do without her for a day or two, considering her mobility is down by about 80%. She's taken half a pain pill, and she's trying to sleep. (The Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie prescription probably helped as much as the pill, all things considered. We believe in the healing powers of chocolate.)

Betty the Bike is off to the shop tomorrow to confirm that there's no harm done to her considerably solid frame -- and that she didn't do anything bad to cause this.

Cycle Girl will be doing a few circles around the cul de sac on Trigger, the Palomino cruiser, as soon as she's able. Past experience tells me any kind of nasty spill requires getting back on the pony as quickly as possible. Even if it means riding one-handed. And Trigger is the perfect choice in this case, since he has old-school, back-pedal brakes.

I'm thinking I may institute a Purple Pedal Medal for those injured in the service of saving the atmosphere and keeping their butts skinny in the process. Design ideas welcomed!

30 October 2010

October sun

I've been slack this summer. After Memorial Day, things got busy, and then it got hot - boy howdy, did it get hot. A record number of days over 90 degrees this summer, and a few in the triple digits. With the humidity from the river, a heat index well over 100 wasn't uncommon.

I rode one Tuesday in June; the morning was balmy, but at 5:30 p.m. on the way over to Gilda's Club, the heat index was 108. Even my veteran cyclist friend Ben thought I'd lost my mind. Brother Bob allowed later as how I was apparently either suicidal or just plain stoopid.

So I've gained five pounds I didn't need, and my asthma is back - the symptoms had completely gone away when I was riding regularly, but I'm wheezing again now that allergy season has hit. I've been hitting the Zyrtec pretty hard just to keep breathing.

Yesterday, after going downstairs to get lunch, I decided to take the stairs back up - five floors. I had to stop on 3 for a minute, but I made it. I'm going to do it at least once a day this winter; by Christmas, I should be able to keep going and pick up some speed.

And this morning dawned chilly and clear, but turned into the most perfect day for riding. 60 degrees out at noon, with little wind and only a few high, wispy clouds - the kind that look like bits of Halloween spider-web fluff. So around 2 p.m., I took a break from cleaning the front closet and hitched up the panniers for a run to the grocery.

Unfortunately, my new gel seat has a loose nut and keeps sliding backward and forward. So instead of being set where I like it, with the gel part holding my weight, I rode uncomfortably with the metal seat frame under my bones... Gotta get that fixed.

And it makes a rhythmic thumping noise that makes me think one of the tires isn't quite right - the kind you'd expect to hear on a road with regularly spaced bumps, except it goes all the time. Need to look into that, too.

Nevertheless, it was a good ride. I went through the neighborhood out to Hounz Lane, then took Tiverton around to Aylesbury and Goose Creek. Had to cross Westport Road at the traffic light, which is no big deal - otherwise, it was smooth sailing on residential streets.

As I rode through the Kroger parking lot, I noticed another bike chained to a light post with a bubblegum pink cable lock. It made me smile.

Inside, I wound through Produce picking up ingredients for beef stew - celery, organic carrots. I knew I had plenty of onions. On the way to the potatoes, I spotted the kalanchoe display at the same time as another woman. She was tall, beautiful in a fresh-scrubbed, old-hippie way, maybe about my age. She was black, and she wore soft layers - a wide, long skirt, a big, loose sweater, a couple of bright scarves. And she was enchanted by the kalanchoe.

"What is it?" she asked. "I've never seen it before. Is it from some foreign country? Maybe China?"

I told her the name of the plant and what little I know about it: that it's easy-care, low maintenance, it's a succulent, and even when it's not blooming, the leaves are lovely. I didn't know where it was from. Central America, maybe. I need to research that.

She couldn't get over the colors. The display was a bank of reds, oranges, golds, yellows - all shades, many of the pots with two or even three small plants in mixed colors. It really was beautiful - it made me smile, too.

As we walked off in opposite directions, she called over her shoulder, conspiratorially, "We love that kind of thing, don't we?" Recognition of a kindred spirit.

"Yes, we do!" I called back.

I got the potatoes, the beef, and I found a new grater. (My old one has flown the coop.) I like grating by hand, using a four-sided stand-up grater, the kind my grandmother had. This one is like Grandmother's, only better; it's from OXO, so it has a comfortable rubber grip handle and a neat little box, about the size of a pack of cards, that fits on the bottom and has a tight lid. You can grate right into the box and then snap the lid on to store what you just grated; even better, when you're not using the set, the box fits top-down inside the bottom of the grater. I found a book of cryptograms - hard to locate these days - in the magazine section.

Then I checked out and went out to load the groceries into my panniers.

As I rolled back across the parking lot, I saw the owner of the bike with the pink lock coasting down the hill in my direction. It was the Kalanchoe Lady.

"Well, hi, there!" I called, and waved.

She responded, "Hello, precious one!"

I was passing through the intersection now, turning right to go back to Goose Creek; she was just coming up to the stop sign. "Enjoy your ride home!" I called back to her. And as I pedaled off, "Be safe!"

The world is full of little miracles - wispy Halloween-spiderweb clouds, bright kalanchoes, and kindred spirits in the most mundane places. And it's good to be back on the bike.

11 October 2010

And now, a word from our sponsor (Daisy Lou)...

I wrote this at about midnight one evening in June. I have no idea why I never posted it. I probably didn't think it was finished. But why would I need to say more?

*********

I have to tell you about this: beautiful Daisy, who is about 8 years old now, has just discovered fireflies.

For the last three nights, our lovely red and white hound has stood outside on the walk or in the grass, transfixed by the little blinky lights dancing in the dark. Last night, she stayed out for over an hour and never made a peep. (Usually, 5 minutes without human company is about her limit.) When I went out to get her, she was just standing and watching, not moving a muscle. Truly fascinated.

The night before, I needed to go to bed, so I tried to call her in; I finally had to put some shoes on and go out in the grass to round her up.

She just now went outside, her last trip for the evening. Tinkerbell and her friends apparently party late in these parts - unless I haul her into the house, I'm pretty sure Daisy Lou will stand on the walk and watch them until 4 in the morning.

08 October 2010

Hope

I've been seeing it everywhere, all this short month long. "Hope." Pink wrist bands, pink on shopping bags, pink on teddy bears, pink on all kinds of silly stuff every time I turn around. Last Saturday, cruising the mall after a visit to the Hair Lady, my sister finally asked, "Is there really all of a sudden all this breast cancer stuff all over the place, or is it just me?"

I knew what she meant. On a less goofy level, it's the same thing as, when you finally get pregnant, you start seeing pregnant women everywhere. Like every freakin' one of 'em decided if you were going to do it, they were, too.

I was moderately relieved to be able to say, "Nope. Not you, shug. Just October."

Of course, there's a month for everything. October is Breast Cancer Awareness. Translation: All you retailers, jump on the Intimidation Bandwagon and Cash In!! But who cares? If one woman thinks about getting a mammogram because some damn fool bought her a Belkie Bear in a pink T-shirt, it's worth it.

Me, I got my Belkie Bear. My sister has hers. We haven't named them yet, although I'm scrolling through Lynn Redgrave's most memorable roles for a name for mine. My sister bought the bears (white plush, pink shirts, very huggy). I bought the Chanel No. 5. Cut of the take to S. Komen. Works for me. It's all about hope, right? Hope for a cure, hope for the future, hope for lifetimes that go 'way past when they would have a couple decades ago...

This weekend, I'm headed for a women's retreat at a monastery in Indiana. The focus for the weekend is "hope," and we have a list of things to bring, all of which mean "hope" for us. A scripture, reading, song, whatever. A used greeting card. A story.

As I started packing, I found myself looking for the "hope" in what I packed. It started out as, "What am I going to take? What defines 'hope' in my worldly possessions?" After a while, though, I had to laugh... Here's the list:

1. my "ASsK me" T-shirt - the question being, "Who is Aang San Sui Qi?" - in the hope of universal justice
2. my "peace" tank top from the Norma Kamali collection at WalMart - in the hope it will happen (even at WalMart)
3. my Cubs T-shirt - in hopes of breaking the Curse (hey, Ed has the Redskins and I have my Cubbies - so you family members who want to blow your diet Pepsi through your nose about now, stuff a sock in it! Super Bowl, World Series, whatever... ;-)
4. my jeans, in the hope of someday seeing "skinny" again
5. my western boots, in the hope that my knee isn't so bad I can never hope to shovel out a horse stall or sit in a saddle for hours
6. my guitar - in the hope that someday I'll be able to play and sing at the same time
7. my notebook - a.k.a. my "brain" - in the hope of a flash of brilliance that will translate into notes that will translate into something that will translate into a "WOW" from someone with the authority - and the money - to say, "Publish that, and send that woman a check!"
8. that song...

There's a song by Rich Mullins called "If I Stand." It's been stuck in my head for a month. The chorus goes:

If I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will see me through -
And if I can't, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You.
If I sing, let me sing for the joy that has borne in me these songs,
And if I weep, let it be as one who is longing for her home.


Okay, I paraphrased a little. I doubt Rich minds. I'm sure the Almighty doesn't. Because that song is about my hope.

I'm clueless. I'm scared. I face tomorrow with trembling hands and knocking knees - every damned tomorrow of my life. Seriously. All I can hope for is what my gut tells me - that there's Something bigger than I am holding me up. There's a survival that has no logic to it, a quiet peace that has no reason but grace. There's a happiness that has no link to good sense - it's just there. And there is - I am sure - a place I've been, a place I started, a place to which I will return, where it will all make sense. So I don't have to think about why, or how. The Something that's bigger (and smarter) knows about all that and has it under control. Maybe not to change anything, maybe not to "make it all better" - but at least to be able to see the big picture. The "if this, then that." The logic, the karma, the all-comes-togetherness.

My hope and my trust are in the existence of the Something that can manage all of the above and then some. So I, in my anxiety-disordered, perfectionist humanity, don't have to.

Thanks be to G-d.

24 September 2010

Flotsam and jetsam

Wednesday night on Letterman: Joaquin Phoenix and Tom Jones. First Joaquin - beautiful, brilliantly talented, very vulnerable, with his frequent "and um..." and hesitancy in answering direct questions. Then Mr. Jones - still hot and bothersome at 74 and counting. (And in case you're wondering, Joaquin Phoenix was born exactly nine months ahead of my daughter.)

I wonder how many other women of my generation have been taken with such a maternal possessiveness toward the Phoenix boys. River broke my heart more than once, but the last time almost did me in; after his death, I couldn't watch my favorite movie of all time (Stand By Me) for three or four years. (I taught my youngest child to dance with that movie playing on the VCR.)

I think what hurt the most was that in his very evasion of public life, River pulled off a major lie. We moms truly believed he was the beautiful, calm, stable boy he made himself out to be - the serious actor, the one with a gift, the Big Brother of the other young Phoenixes. And as the eldest of four, I'd cast him in the role of Guiding Light: the one who set the example, just as I was expected to do; the one who played it safe because the little ones would follow; the one who was cautious in taking risks, so the little ones wouldn't follow... And then, dramatically, suddenly, right there on a street corner in LA, in front of God and everybody, he up and died - OD'd. And one of the little ones - Joaquin - had to be the one to call 911.

Damned if that's not a comeuppance to mark you for life.

Joaquin isn't as pretty as River was. He's much the middle child, the odd duck, the one who pulls goofy publicity stunts that may or may not be research for a new role. Every time I see him, with that "birthmark" on his face, the first thought in my head is that if plastic surgeons have a real calling, it's to fix harelips as well as his has been fixed. I mean, really... But there's something about him. Maybe it's the intensity, or maybe it's just the goofy approach to being serious.

Or maybe it's just - as Billie Holliday sang so perfectly, 'way before MY time, let alone his - "them there eyes."

Then Mr. Jones - white-haired, bearded, solid - even stocky. No tight pants and shirt open to THERE, no shimmying pelvis - no real drama, even. The old image of Tom Jones is out the window. But...

The directness - the no-nonsense, lay-it-on-the-line honesty - of the delivery constituted one of the sexiest performances I've ever seen on TV. I mean, be honest: live is always better. It's all relative. If I'd been in the studio audience, I'd very possibly have felt it genuinely necessary to throw some intimately personal object onto the stage.

The song was a bluesy, not-quite-gospel thing about "I don't know what's gonna happen when I die and it scares the living crap out of me..." The chorus repeats, building in intensity: "Maybe there ain't no Heaven, maybe there ain't no Hell. Maybe there ain't no Heaven, no burning Hell..." The lyrics are plain, flat: there it is, deal with it. And the blunt delivery sends chills down my arms.

Because that's the question. What if?

Believe all you want, but remember this: "Faith" requires accepting not just what you can't see, but what you realistically can't even believe. Anyone who tells you they KNOW the truth is either (a) lying in their teeth, or (b) lying to themselves in their teeth. Believe all you want - I do. But don't tell me you know.

A kid the age of Joaquin Phoenix - or my daughter - can't deliver those cold chills as plainly and simply. For all "that age" is officially "adult," a Western 35-year-old these days isn't a "grown-up." Hard knocks have nothing to do with it; Joaquin Phoenix watched his brother die, and Bri dealt with traumas of her own. (And yes, they were real traumas, not adolescent "mountains out of molehills.") But in spite of the hard knocks, the lost siblings, lost friends, fear and alienation, and the outright tragedy it took them to grow up, these kids mostly haven't yet woken up at 2 a.m. wondering if they're really going to see their Granddaddy and their Aunt Murial when they die, or if the "crossing over" BS is complete and total BS.

Whereas Mr. Jones senses reality: the truth of the matter is something we can't know. And he lays it out there on the line in his performance, hard and uncompromising: I don't know. I don't have a clue. I will pray, I will try, I will hold onto as much belief as I can - even if it's the belief that if I approach the church altar right now, with as little faith as I have in my heart, a bolt of lightning will find me.

.....

It's very late, and I'm very tired, but there is a point here. It's not so much that it escapes me at the moment as that my heart - my gut, my kishkes - knows the point, but that point totally refuses to travel to the logical, verbal side of my brain from where I can throw it out there.

But I think it's this:

The world is a bizarre place. A lot of what happens is a matter of being in the right place at the wrong time. Can you imagine, if either of these performers had taken one different turn? True, it wouldn't be as dramatic as "the end of the world as we know it" - because that would simply be the way it is.

But I'm convinced that art, creativity, music, drama, and even just flinging oneself out into the world - into life - is what keeps the world turning. It's us, at whatever level we are, wherever we are in our personal development, grabbing hold of that "love energy" that Glenn Henson defines as "God" and flinging it back into the universe, where it can build on itself and grow willy-nilly and attach to other beings and turn, again, into art, creativy, music, drama - beauty.

Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, irresistible, undeniable, unflappable, indefinable beauty. The flotsam and jetsam that come together in an implosion of "love energy" and make us truly alive.

18 September 2010

Disappointments

There's the disappointment of not getting a job you know you're qualified for. On a lesser scale, there's the disappointment of going to the fridge with your mouth set for a pimento cheese sandwich, to find someone else finished off all but half a teaspoon of the pimento cheese.

And there's the disappointment of making plans for a new life, spending weekends looking at houses, spending evenings planning a wedding, and then having the rug jerked out from under you.

As often happens, it's not my story to tell. But my beautiful daughter is heartbroken, her erstwhile fiance is oblivious to the harm he's done, and we all feel betrayed. After four and a half years, you start to think you can trust a person. And then he decides he can't commit.

Two weekends ago, she and I sat in the shade of the patio of a pub on Bardstown Road, talking about music and houses and the possibility of having the rehearsal dinner at my house - or even at hers. This weekend, she's reeling, and I can't do a thing to help.

We all want things for our children. Even us old "anti-establishment" lefty types, who raised them to question authority and taught them well that there are more important things in life than amassing a fortune. As kids go, I think I did well. I have three young adults with strong principles, who won't give up those principles for convenience or profit. They're all compassionate, literate, articulate, and committed to what they believe is right. They share a strong - even intense - work ethic. They want to do work that will improve the world; if it pays well, that's just gravy. They are people of faith. Theirs may not in all cases be mainstream, establishment-approved faith, but it is theirs, and they are better people for it. And they're people of action; they don't sit and wait for good things to come to them. They roll up their sleeves and get busy making good things happen.

I think it's a positive thing that my daughter places a higher value on service, social justice, and the environment than she does on a big fat paycheck. Sure, the fat paycheck would be nice, especially since she graduated just in time for the recession (thank you, Dubya) with five digits' worth of school loans. So far, she's still looking for a job that will pay enough to live on AND make payments to the Student Loan People. But she's not sitting and moping - she's working two jobs, and in her vast quantities of spare time, she's applying for jobs that will cover both life and loans.

Other people raised their children differently. There's not anything inherently wrong about that - one of the hard facts of being a card-carrying liberal is that you have to grant people the right to do things in ways you wouldn't. But I do think there's something tragic about a family that rejects its children if they choose love over a higher income. It's a fate that's actually come about with one of the erstwhile fiance's cousins; he's apparently persona non grata these days, after giving up a high-paying job to move closer to the woman he loves. My guess is that the EF could see it happening to him, if he actually followed through with marrying a woman with high ideals and a big balance in the school loan department. And who refused to file bankruptcy to get out of paying the loans.

In the long run, it's for the best. Go ahead and get the heartbreak out of the way while there's no community property and no children involved. Deal with the disappointment while you can still move on.

But the disappointment is very real, and it hurts. My daughter hurts from the rejection, from being told, in essence, that she's inadequate. I hurt for my daughter. And I hurt for myself and the rest of my family, because we fell for it, too. We trusted him to love our girl enough to bend for her, as she bent at times for him. And he betrayed our trust.

I am deeply disappointed in both the EF and his family. They seemed so nice. I'm furiously angry to find they place more importance on financial worth than on commitment, love, and hard work.

Right now, she says she'd rather be single for the rest of her life than to get hurt like this again. I'm hoping there's someone not far off who won't betray her - who shares her ideals and her sense of commitment, and who wants what she wants and is willing to bend to meet her. And that when she encounters that person, she'll be able to believe him.

Because we need to have faith that there is love, and it can conquer all, if you let it.

Otherwise, the disappointment of living would eat us alive.

14 September 2010

Movie reviews

Every once in a while, I take a notion to have a movie weekend. Sometimes there's a reason - research for a project, or I'm feeling a little hesitant in my Spanish comprehension - but for the most part, it's just time for a movie weekend.

This week, I was looking for a melody - one that hovers in the back of my memory and tries to ooch forward occasionally, but will never quite surface. This week, I needed that melody. It's sweet and elegant, childlike and stately, one of a kind.

So Bri and I hit Wild and Woolly Video on Bardstown Road last Saturday afternoon and came out with an armload. And what an armload!

One of her picks was a French rendition of Bluebeard, the scary morality tale of the young woman whose blue-bearded husband warns her never to unlock the room with the little gold key. If you ever heard a fairy tale, you know how this one comes out. But this production is brilliant and eerie - directed by Catherine Breillat, it links make-believe with the recent past of my childhood and quite successfully builds suspense in spite of the obvious. This one goes in one of my "fantasy classes" on Cinema as Literature.

My picks included Coco Before Chanel, which I guess qualifies as fictionalized history, if not historical fiction. Having read the Wikipedia bio, I expect they got the basic facts about as straight as one can, without sworn testimony. But without a fly on the wall, it's anybody's guess how accurate the details are. Nevertheless, it's an admirable effort, a fun movie, and Audrey Tatou is (duh...) perfect. (Like she could be anything else.)

The Unknown Quantity - totally - was Avenue Montaigne. The synopsis sounded amusing: Jeune femme from le stiques comes to Paree, finds a job as a wait-person at a cafe' (where they don't hire women, merci' very beaucoups) next door to the theatre, and proceeds, via her engenuite', to solve the problems of all the overwrought soap stars and nouveau riche art collectors within range, not to mention a tormented concert pianist and a jackass cafe' manager. AND she makes her Grandmama happy.

Bottom line: If you love Cinderella, heroines with grit, happy coincidences, and happier endings, rent this movie. You will love it! Definitely goes on MY Favorites List.

The icing on the cake I saved for this evening, two days past due. (Yep. This is me. The Queen of Overdue Fines. Wild and Woolly lets me pay on the installment plan. Seriously.)

The icing on the cake was Babe.

This is the movie I went looking for. The Saint-Saƫns melody that repeats throughout this sweet, lovely film simply haunts me. For several years, I struggled to write a hymn lyric to the tune. Watching the movie tonight, and hearing - maybe for the first time, for all I've watched Babe half a dozen times or more - Farmer Hoggett singing softly to the little pig, "If I had the words to make a day for you..." I realized my efforts were superfluous. The song is one of complete, unconditional, uncomplicated, WYSIWYG love, and there is none greater. I don't think I'll forget the melody again; it's imprinted now in my head.

And the take-away is this: the half-grown pig, nudging gently at his bereft adoptive mother, Fly, who's seen her litter of pups farmed out and lost her mate, Rex, to his own ill temper and jealousy, and saying, "Mom? Mom? Are you alright, Mom?" And the farmer, the man of few words, willing a sad little pig to live, and softly singing to him from some unidentified place deep in his own heart's memory.

No species-defined lines. No assumptions. No prejudgment. Just love. Wide-open, accepting - willing to be hurt, if that's what it takes (although not out actively looking for pain) - but mostly just knowing that it's in giving that we receive.

I finished the evening with a phone call from my sister. She's beautiful, and I love her. Life isn't easy right now - but that's just life. The good part is us. We have each other to lean on.

05 September 2010

Hunting Houses

My daughter and her fiance have decided it's time. They need their own place. Unfortunately, they both work such hours that it's difficult for them to look for houses together - which is why I've spent the last two Saturdays wandering around town looking at "fixers" with Bri.

Last week was with the realtor who helped us buy this house. She's also a friend, and she was willing to go out with us once for "window-shopping." Five houses, four of them "shotgun" style (originally three rooms, lined up front-to-back, so you could stand in the front door, fire a shotgun, and have the shot go straight out the back), although three of them had been added to. The remaining house was a two-story; we never left the ground floor.

Houses #1 and #2 were in acceptable structural shape but needed some updating. #3 was a tragedy: a beautiful, 100+ year old house with original, detailed, beautiful woodwork around the doors and windows, a front door that needed some gentle repairs to be restored to its original gloriously embellished state - and a ton of black mold, growing out of the mud room walls in huge tufts. Up to that point, we'd noted the floors needed refinishing, the fireplaces needed some work, the walls would have to be redone - but when we stepped into the kitchen and looked out the back door, we were horrified. And I was sick for four days after breathing mold spores for 10 minutes while we were there.

Bri was practically in tears. I could see why. Here is a lovely house, once a sweet home - one that could be again. But it's toxic. There's no way. They'd have to live in haz-mat masks for weeks, until they could get the back entry demolished and cleaned out. And if it was that bad on the surface, what's inside the walls? What's under the floor? What's living in the cellar?

We're all about "green." A big part of "green" is reusing, repurposing, and recycling. But I'm not sure that house is still in any condition to be repurposed or recycled. It may be too far gone for that. It's damn near criminal - a huge waste of resources and beauty.

The fourth house was the two-story. It took us a couple minutes to figure out it had been the scene of a rather nasty kitchen fire. It's going to take someone twice the mortgage amount to bring it back to a healthy standard of living.

The fifth was a charmer. Completely renovated, new kitchen, second bathroom, finished attic adding two bedrooms. Loads of natural light. All was well until after Judy, the realtor, had left. Bri and I were unloading my B-cycle (work bike-pool vehicle) from the rack so I could ride it back to the building to turn it in. We'd worked our way close to downtown, and in spite of the heat, I wanted to get a couple miles in. And up the street came a gentleman (I use the term loosely) with a brown paper sack grasped firmly in his waving right hand, shouting at the top of his lungs about what we could do to his hmm-hmm. And on and on. And on.

He never came more than about 20 yards from where we were, just stood in the middle of the street and bellowed obscenities and angry, drunken epithets, except for the seconds when he stopped for another gulp from the paper sack. But that was close enough. Our smittenness evaporated as I circled the bike around and took off up the street, with Bri in the car on my back fender.

She learned later from a friend who works for a mortgage finance company that there's a halfway house for recently released sex offenders a block up from the address. Um... no. Thank you.

This week was somewhat stressful. I was struggling to get a handle on an essential - but complex and very alien - process at work, I was sick for much of the week with evil allergy-related symptoms, and the young lovers were having some communication issues. (They're learning quite quickly to navigate those rough waters - it's one of the major advantages to waiting until you're old enough to know your own priorities before you commit to sharing a life with someone else!) We didn't have anything we needed to go back out with Judy, so instead, we girls struck out on our own this afternoon.

We viewed six houses from the outside. We found two keepers. One is another shotgun, in the Highlands - one of those charming neighborhoods made up of Victorian- to Arts & Crafts-period houses in a wide range of states of repair (or not). It's on a narrow side street, clean and bright, with sidewalks and beggar cats on the walk. It's blue, it has good windows and a cute fireplace (we could see it through the front windows), and a postage stamp yard. It backs up to an alley; there's room to park behind.

The other is a few blocks away from where I sit right now. It's one of those 1960s cookie-cutter ranches, and it's sad. The shrubs are overgrown, the flagpole is bent, the fence is falling in huge chunks of unfinished lumber. It's painted gray.Or putty. A non-color. But it has three beautiful trees in the front yard. The floors are bare plywood, some of the storm windows have come loose from their frames. The rail on the front porch is inexpertly constructed; it needs to be taken apart and rebuilt.

It has half again the floor space of the house in the Highlands. It has a garage - closed in now (apparently, someone had ideas of turning it into a family room) but easily opened back up. It has three bedrooms, two full bathrooms. It needs work, but they all do, in the price range of young lovers with excellent carpentry skills.

Mainly, that house needs love to break through its depressive state and bring it back to life. By the time we got home, Bri was thinking bright white exterior, red shutters, a cheery, welcoming blue front door; I was thinking a swing in the tree out front. Rocking chairs on the porch, azaleas in the yard, tomatoes and herbs by the kitchen door. I'd already made a list of the essential basic repairs - in priority order.

It's about green. It's about recycling and reusing. It's about giving new life to things someone else thought were worn out.

Both these houses have a lot of potential. I'm looking forward to next weekend.

19 August 2010

The week that wuz...

It started last Friday afternoon with a hasty flight from the office to - appropriately - the airport. SDF to MDW wasn't bad; in fact, the landing was kind of fun. The pilot gave us a heads-up that they'd assigned us the shortest available runway for landing purposes at Midway. Good thing Southwest flies short planes... From where I was sitting, I could just about feel the dude standing on the brake pedal. Seriously professional job of parking that plane, if you ask me.

We flew most of the way to Philly in the dark, then rode to NJ with the Beth and Hillary Show. You put Hillary and her cousin Elizabeth together in the same small space for a few hours, and it gets crazy. And loud. But fun. I, on the other hand, was dead on my butt, so I dozed through most of it.

Saturday was Joe and Damaris' wedding. Joe is Elizabeth's brother, and Damaris is the new Most Recent Addition to the Family. She's a lovely young woman, she was a gorgeous bride, it was a beautiful wedding, and the reception brought back memories of my first Italian Thanksgiving. (Short version: Between the fourth course - i.e., the entree' - and dessert, I found myself in the bathroom, praying, "Please, please let my stomach stop hurting, and I swear I won't eat another bite." And then, 30 minutes later, back at the table just in time for them to bring out the tiramisu, I prayed, "You knew I was kidding, right?" So you get the idea, right?)

Best thing about the reception: Chip Mergott's music. Not that the sit-down dinner wasn't fabulous. The salmon was especially perfect. (Can something be "especially perfect"? Yes, it can.) But Chip was great - the only thing that would have been better would have been Annie, too. Sadly, the Mergotts were unable to find a babysitter, so it was an Annie-less show.

Note to Chip and Annie: The next time we're invited to the same event, call me. I'll look out for Eli and you guys can play all you want.

Spent a good chunk of Sunday at work, thanks to the invention of the "remote desktop." Went online to check a thing or two, and ended up on for about 4 hours, basically being a perfectionist. Good thing I enjoy being a perfectionist.

Monday - a trip to NYC. Made a stop at the recently opened Forever 21 in Times Square, where we bought a gift for the pet sitter. (Hope she likes it!) Then walked about four blocks farther than my knee was willing before I demanded relief, which came in the form of a cab. Never rode in a New York cab before. Monday, I did it twice.

Destination: the studio where The Daily Show is taped. Yes, that Daily Show - the one with Jon Stewart! Trust me, it was worth every minute of the three hours we stood in line. (We had tickets. If you don't have tickets, don't bother. And even if you do, if you show up after 4:30 p.m., forget it. At 4:30, your tickets will become the prized possession of someone who showed up without tickets, but on time.) The guest: Emma Thompson. Among the thoughts that kept going through my head as I watched Her Gorgeousness mugging and cutting up with JS: "Kenneth Brannaugh was screwing around on HER? What a dope..."

Well, and we see whose career has gained serious altitude, and whose pretty much disappeared...

Cab to Penn Station, train back to Basking Ridge. Got in around 10 p.m.; dinner was a malt from the Dairy Queen. (Sadly, I cannot recommend the malts from the Bernardsville DQ. They were low on malt and tasted unmistakeably of skim milk.)

Tuesday, flew home. En route, picked up a New Yorker - fun reading - and a paperback by Alice Hoffman: The Story Sisters, which is classic Hoffman. Charming, bittersweet, fanciful to the point of being almost mystic - a beautiful book. Finished it last night. Not that short; just that engrossing.

Wednesday, back to work. Today, back to work some more. Tomorrow... yeah. That. (At least I have lunch plans.)

Saturday, I've signed up to help build a greenhouse at Brandeis Elementary School. Now, THAT is good use of a weekend!

09 August 2010

Must be August...

I should probably ride to work tomorrow. The high is only going to be 95, with hardly any "heat index" added on. It's the last day this week I should be so lucky.

Friday was actually nice, for the first time in over a week, but we had a lot to do that morning - Bri trying to finish up projects for Pennsic, the annual big-deal event of the SCA (that's Society for Creative Anachronism - Google it), Mitch getting ready to fly to NC for his dad's 60th birthday (OMG, my second ex-spouse will be 60 on Tuesday...), and of course, me, knowing I needed to get my butt out the door, like, an hour ago, but wanting to hang out with the kids for a few minutes more. Mitch, in particular, doesn't come around as much as he used to. That would be because (a) he's moved into his own place with a buddy over in J'town, and (b) he's accomplished that "separation" thing quite well. This is good, but when he does show up, it's good to see him.

So Friday, I didn't ride. Friday, I drove Mitch's Saturn Vue, because I could. Bri took my car to Pennsic, Mitch left me his keys - at least until he returns on Tuesday - and it's all good. My next Saturn is going to be a Vue (assuming I can find one still running that the owner's willing to sell), which will give us three in the family; both the boys drive Vues at present. It's a great vehicle - big enough to haul large dogs, small-to-medium-sized furniture, and/or any number of longety-leggity boys, but it gets about the same gas mileage as my Saturn LS2, which is a small sedan. In fact, there are moments I find myself wishing someone would rear-end the LS2. Not that I don't like it - it's a great, dependable, economical, and attractive little car. But I could use something with a little more room, if only for the dogs. (Big Daisy is coming in at about 80 pounds these days. It amaze me how she can fold her longety-leggity self into an armchair and not hang off the edges.)

But I digress. Friday, I didn't ride. Saturday, I did: to the bike shop in Westport Village to buy a new seat (got my skinny gel seat!), to the Crescent Hill library, which was closed, but I dropped off my overdue library book anyway, and to JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts for a zipper, thread, and beads. About 20 miles round trip.

Today, I meant to, but then I decided it would be rude to show up for Mai's birthday party all sweaty, so I didn't.

Mai is a story all by herself. She's Thai, and she has a little restaurant across the river in Jeffersonville, IN. It's the best - Thai home cooking. She's celebrating 9 years in business, and her birthday was August 2, so she had an invitation-only private buffet for regular customers. Usually, she's closed on Sundays - she drives to Indianapolis, I think, to the nearest Buddhist temple, after she closes up shop on Saturday nights. She has in the store a little shelf of curios that she sells not for profit, but for her ongoing temple-restoration mission - I've bought a couple of lovely pieces of cotton fabric and other things she's brought back from trips to Thailand - and she was accepting donations today. And the food was wonderful as always, and we shared a table with a great couple, Jim and Joy, who live in Jeffersonville these days and work in mental health, and who love to travel. Great conversation about healthcare, systems, and getting what you need. And finding new places.

So today, I didn't ride, either. We came home, I took my Sunday nap, and then we went to Trivia Night at Highland Baptist Church, where we had friends raising funds for a mission trip. Our team came in second, which is respectable considering the questions stunk out loud...

And in about 5 hours, my alarm will go off and start pushing me toward the office again. Another day of building form letters from pre-written components; another day of checking the edits to make sure they contain everything the CMS-approved original says they should.

And it's hot.

Nothing out of the upper 70s - and that's for the low - the rest of the week. 90-100 degrees or more.

Ugh.

16 July 2010

Making great days

My outgoing voice mail message, wherever you hear it - cell or office - ends in, "Make it a great day!" They don't just happen. I learned years ago that when you have a great day, it's because you chose to make it great.

Against all odds - and possibly common sense - my family is coming together this weekend to make a great day. Those who can be there will be, and those who can't get to Sylva, NC, will be thinking of us (and waiting for pictures). Because two weeks ago, my baby sister decided July 18, 2010, was a great day to get married.

Without going into too much detail (and telling a story that's not mine to tell), I'll say yes, this is the same baby sister who is fighting cancer. She starts her chemo Monday or Tuesday - what a way to spend a honeymoon! But one of the things she's found out in the past two months is that her Mark is not easily scared off. He's held her hands and cried with her through painful biopsies; he's checked on her daily and tried to make her laugh when she just wanted to hide; he's listened to her fear and anger knowing he was helpless to change anything, but willing to slay dragons for her at the drop of a hat. Mark thinks in the language of "We." Cheri is not alone, and she's agreed that they belong together.

So we're having a wedding, three months ahead of schedule. Informal for the most part - no invitations, just phone calls and word of mouth - even though she's wearing her gorgeous fairy-tale white satin dress and Mark is wearing a tux. When Ed wanted to know how he should dress, she allowed as how "ties are evil," and said she didn't care if he came in his gym shorts. The ceremony and reception are in the church where we grew up, but she won the music "discussion," and our old friend Jay will be singing America's "Daisy Jane." (There are even less appropriate songs in the mix, but they're going to be instrumentals...)

Wednesday, she called me on the phone with a "quick question" - could my daughter and I take care of the cake? "Well, of course," I said. "How many people are you expecting?"

"Huh?" she responded. "Why?"

"Well, how big do you need it to be?"

She almost fell off her chair laughing - I could tell. She wanted us to CUT the cake for guests - she didn't need us to make it! I expect that will go down as legendary as my wedding story of Daddy and the nuts.

It will be a flying run at Sylva for those of us who can. It's totally worth it. I wouldn't miss this for love nor money!

04 July 2010

Back to the trail

Rockwood is a pretty little town with a quiet little Main Street - much of it residential - and a bike shop right next to the trailhead going on northwest. But that was for Sunday.

Saturday night, we rode to the store on the east side of the bridge and got sodas and ice cream sandwiches. I thought I might have died and gone to heaven when I discovered they had Diet Sierra Mist. I'd never been able to get it here. (Interestingly, right after I got back, Ed found Kroger had started carrying it.)I got a sandwich, too, but all things considered, I decided this was a night for eating dessert first. So I parked myself on the front porch of the store, in the dark, and ate my ice cream and rested my burning muscles for a few minutes. Then we mounted back up and rode, helmetless, up a couple of back streets to the Hostel on Main Street.

The hostel has a bike rack in the cellar, plus plenty of open floor space down there. They can accomodate at least a dozen bikes just in the racks, and if you have a kick-stand, there's more room than that. I was too tired to fool with the lock; I just parked Nellie Belle and walked out. As it turns out, there was no need to worry - everything was fine the next morning. (And there's apparently an alarm on the doors, as we discovered shortly...)

The shiny kitchen in back, with vintage coffee mugs and mixed china in the corner cabinet, was a quiet haven for eating my sandwich, drinking my "happy surprise" soda, and reading a book for a bit after a hot shower. Three showers in separate bathrooms ensured privacy and availability, and there was ample hot water for Bob and me, even though we were in adjacent bathrooms at the same time. No loss of pressure or hot. :-)

The front room had comfy old chairs, a whole wall of books - everything from Stephen King to romance novels to local history - and several puzzles, a card table, and a good ceiling fan to keep the air moving. The central, common bunk room had bunks for at least 12, and there were two separate "family" bunk rooms to sleep six or eight. Our one roommate for the evening was ready to crash about the time I got done eating, but I was able to go out to the front room and read until I wound down.

Unfortunately, the alarm on the back door kept going off at about 7- or 8-minute intervals. We tried resetting it, thought about smashing it, but before we got that desperate, Bob hit on the solution. Just like smoke alarms, apparently battery-operated security alarms start going off when their batteries get low. He popped the batteries out, and that was the end of that. (He put them back in the next morning, so the staff would be aware there was an issue and replace them. No problems at all on Sunday night!)

The train tracks run about 20 yards behind the hostel, which might be a problem for city folks. We grew up in Sylva, North Carolina, though. We never lived more than half a mile from the tracks from the time we moved there. (Sometime I'll tell you about the "No Trains At Night Motel.") And my kids grew up in Wendell, NC, in the same proximity to the tracks... My daughter and I were talking about it the other day, and we concluded that for us, trains at night are better than "white noise." It can take a night or two to get used to the rhythm of the schedules, but not if you're as tired as Bob and I were that night!

Sunday morning, we were the last out. Had a fun time visiting with the other guests who'd stayed Saturday night - a lone cyclist who hit it off with Bob (they shared an interesting philosophical discussion over coffee) and a family of five who were doing their first long ride together. They'd recently moved from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania and have a farm where they raise pasture-fed cattle.

We didn't hit our first snag of the day until we got to the (closed) restaurant where we'd thought to get breakfast. That's when I discovered my wallet was not in my seat wedge where it was supposed to be.

We'd decided to leave the bulk of our gear at the hostel, since we were staying there again on Sunday night, so we rode back to look there. I dumped out my panniers on the bunk, looked on the floor under the bed, looked in the bathrooms, the front room, the kitchen - looked in the refrigerator. We looked in the cellar. No wallet.

There was nothing left to do but backtrack. I was trying not to panic.

We rode back to the store the same way we'd come, scanning the sides of the road for my little red wallet. When we got to the store, I parked the bike, walked in, and said to the man at the counter, "We stopped in here last night, and I think I maybe dropped my..." and he was already reaching under the counter, grinning a relieved kind of grin. The night guy had found my wallet by the bike rack -- I'd dropped it in my helmet while I walked around the corner to eat my ice cream sandwich, and it had apparently fallen out. They'd checked the ID, so the morning guy knew who I was when I walked in. And everything was there - the cards, the cash, all of it. I could have hugged his neck, but I settled for buying some more ice cream and a cup of coffee.

Our Sunday ride was an out-and-back. I won't say this is the prettiest stretch of the trail, although I'm tempted, but I will say it's special. This is where we saw the most lush wildflower growth, crossed the most bridges over rivers, detoured around an abandoned tunnel, and got the majority of the best pictures. (See my Facebook album.) It was also a relatively easy ride - 21 miles out, an hour or more for a lunch break, and then back to Rockwood - with no really challenging hills. A good stretch for the second day.

Next up: the Sunday Lunch restaurant review (four stars), ice cream for dinner, and Monday thunderstorms and turtles.

30 June 2010

Eventually

I'll come back to the ride eventually. It was my first real three-day ride, after all. And there were more adventures. But not today.

Today, I decided around 3 p.m. that I'd had enough for a while. I needed a break. So I told my neighbor Andrew I had an errand to run, picked up my helmet and pocketbook, and headed down to the bike rack.

Nellie Belle rode in on the back of the car this morning. I was running late-ish, and Bri needed the car to make deliveries this evening. But that was fine. It meant Nellie was sitting in her spot in the loading dock, waiting. I strapped my pocketbook under the cargo net, put on my new red-and-pink tropical-floral helmet (fun!), and set out the four blocks to Creation Gardens.

I was back 25 minutes later -- and feeling like I'd had a two-hour break. Creation Gardens is a wholesale "fresh and local" restaurant supplier with a small retail operation on the side. Seriously on the side... The retail store is on a teeny little side street that looks like an alley, just east of the interstate overpass that's just east of Slugger Field. There are two ways to get there from where I work, three blocks west on Main: You can go south to Market, come back east past the interstate, and ride two blocks north -- or you can ride east to Slugger Field, north half a block, east another two blocks, and circle back to the block that's missing. I chose the latter route. It meant I didn't have to deal with any "main drags," and it took me right past the Louisville Extreme Park, which has some really good energy, anytime, day or night. Kids on skateboards and bikes - what can I tell you? Die, obesity, die! :-)

The retail store for Creation Gardens reminds me of nothing so much as Noah's Food Co-Op in Raleigh, back in the '80s when we "old hippies" were still trying to act like old hippies. (These days, we still do, but we're quieter.) They have open shelves, bulk bins, and the stock seems sort of randomly placed -- or at least, the price tags are randomly placed. But I found a couple things that made me say to hell with the price tags. Honest.

My mission was to find some fast salad makings for dinner at Gilda's Club. This is an off week for volunteers, so we'd all signed up for potluck - all of us friends and family and others with ties to cancer - and I was down for "green salad." So... a head of romaine and a head of red leaf lettuce; one red onion; one smallish {pretty!} yellow squash and two small {really pretty) zucchini; two medium-to-small bunches of broccoli; two pints of mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes. And a wedge of Brie - right at 4 oz. for less than $4. Unheard of.

They were going to give me a market basket, but I argued a box would strap better onto the back of the bike. The box they found - a plain white one - held my produce, my purse, and my bike lock, and it provided just enough tension on the cargo net that my rear light was quite secure. I'll use that box until it wears out.

Quality of produce? Well, I can tell you this: I came home with about 6 oz. of mixed chopped squash - maybe half a cup - and about half as much chopped broc. I only sliced about 1/3 of the onion, paper-thin, so the other 2/3 remains. The lettuce and the mixed heirloom tomatoes are all gone. I didn't even offer up the Brie.

And I think I may do a quick veggie stir-fry tomorrow evening with the left-over squash bits, broccoli, and a little onion. Maybe we'll have some tomatoes ripe soon.

18 June 2010

Will it go 'round in circles? - Further Confessions of a Whiny Cyclist

I neglected to mention I was starting to get a headache between Frostburg and the MadDog Line, in addition to the fatigue (which I was kind of expecting, having hit my recent max around mile 16). I also neglected to mention the banana was only the beginning. The second it hit my taste buds, I realized I'd eaten nothing except a dozen or so fresh cherries(at Frostburg) since leaving Roy Rogers several hours before. I was into Negative Calorie Zone - I'd burned more than I'd taken in already since getting up that morning.

So I had the banana, two Kashi bars, a handful of my Better-Than-Gorp trail mix (recipe available on request), and about a quart of water before taking off again. Come to think of it, that may have helped almost as much as Delbert McClinton on the iPod...

The summit was more than half the way to our destination for the evening. 24 miles down, 18 or 20 to go. And from where we were standing, it looked like it was downhill all the way.

Appearances can be deceiving. Granted, it was slightly more level than not for several miles, but there was more incline than decline when there was any "cline" at all. It didn't take me long to burn up the banana and the Kashi bars. And I'm slow anyway.

Along about 6 p.m., we were still several miles out from Rockwood, PA, where Bob had found a hostel. After giving me careful directions to follow the trail to Rockwood, turn right and cross the bridge, then turn right again onto Main Street, he went ahead to check us in before the staff left for the evening - and to see if he could find us a steak or something. He thought he remembered a restaurant...

Only a few miles - I could do that on my own! And I did fine, until I hit the construction zone (closed for the weekend, thanks be to the Almighty) with the big chunks of loose gravel on sand that felt like riding on boulders, immediately followed by welcome signs that listed mostly Rockwood businesses. There was a bridge, and there looked to be a Main Street down there, but I'd only gone about 2/3 of the distance Bob told me. So I located the trail connection on the other side of the road (no small feat) and pedaled on.

The next mile and a half was the worst of the entire ride. In addition to one goodly uphill stretch - again, on loose gravel over sand, short but steep and rough - the trail was pitted, rocky, unkept, with roots and limbs across the middle. I don't know who is responsible for maintaining the trail, but whoever has the stretch along there is falling down on the job.

About three miles out, I was starting to question my judgment. At about four miles, I became convinced I had ridden right past Rockwood. I finally parked the bike at a little bench with a shelter - they're all along the trail - and had myself a Swiss cheese and ginger preserve sandwich and another quart or so of water, and I prayed. I was pretty sure, I told the Universe, that I'd missed my turn. If I didn't locate myself before dark, which was coming fast, I'd be sleeping out here by this bench, getting myself a stiff neck and a nifty case of grass-itch. (Never mind what might break out on my nether parts if I had to go into the brush for potty.) There was no map, no direction, and no clue in sight, but I needed one. Just a clue - just a little hint I was going the right way. Or that I needed to backtrack.

Wiped my sticky, ginger-preservey hands with a towelette, lifted up Nellie Belle, and prepared to mount. And before I could push off onto the trail, three near-teenagers (on the upper end) came around the nearest past bend. Two girls and a guy.

"'Scuse me," I said, in my best Southern Lost Person voice. "Rockwood is back that way?" I pointed the way I'd come, half saying, half asking.

"Rockwood's up that way," one of them answered, and they all pointed up the trail in the direction I'd been going all along.

I thanked them most kindly. And I felt much relieved. No miles wasted. Whew!

I don't think I'd gone more than another mile and a half before I saw Bob coming back down the trail toward me. It was dusk by then, but I recognized his "gait" on the bicycle.

He hadn't found a restaurant, but he'd found the hostel. He had the passcode to the door, so we could get in even though the staff had left for the evening. And he'd found a general store right on the way, and they had sandwiches and sodas and ice cream.

I thanked the Lord for my brother (and his good raisin'!), tuned out the screaming coming from every muscle between my belly and my knees, and followed him the last three miles to Rockwood.

Stay tuned to this station for more Adventures of a (Whiny) Cyclist...

:-)

15 June 2010

The Ride, Part Deux: Confessions of a Whiny Cyclist

SO... (and BTW, pictures are on my Facebook page! If you can't open them, send me a friend request.)

The first few miles weren't bad - nothing worse than what I tackle on my commute to and from work. The grade was anywhere from about 1% to 2%, and there was plenty of shade. It was hot - mid '80s - but when you're riding, you kick up your own personal breeze, so you don't feel the heat until you stop. (When you stop, though, for a "hydration break," it does seem like the water goes down your goozle and straight to the pores...)

After we crossed over the highway, it got a little steeper. Gradually, at first, so I didn't notice I was getting tired until my upper thighs caught fire. Still, there was shade, and the trail surface is good, so I was able to keep on truckin'.

The trail follows the old railroad bed - some of it still in use for freight, some not - from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, so when there is an incline, it's gradual. The difference is this: Around here, I encounter inclines daily that are between 3% and 6% - but they rarely go more than a quarter of a mile. The Great Allegheny Passage between Cumberland and the Eastern Continental Divide probably never exceeds 2%, but it's a continual 24 miles at an average of 1-1/2%. In fact, the Website claims the grade never exceeds that, but I'm pretty sure some of those stretches were a little more - just not long stretches. Rarely, though, does it level off to zero. And after a while, it becomes a very LONG 24 miles.

Somewhere along the way, I gave Bob clearance to ride ahead, hoping he could get a phone signal and find lodging for the evening. Shortly after he took off toward the rendezvous point at Frostburg, I encountered a blast from the past: a real live, honest-to-God steam engine - in service. There's a tour train that uses the tracks - when I heard it coming, I knew what it was. I haven't heard that sound in at least 40 years, but what a beautiful noise. If you've never heard the vibrant crescendo of a steam engine whistle, you haven't any idea what you've missed. I stopped and waited - and yes, there are pictures.

Met Bob at the Frostburg trail head, where he was collapsed on the grass. Looked like a good idea to me - I stretched out and took a little cat nap, after shedding my shoes and socks. My toes resent being cooped up in hard shoes, and 18 miles out, my ankles were beginning to take serious exception to the hard edges of those hard shoes. After a bit, Brother Bob got on the cell and located a hostel in Rockwood, MD, with beds for the evening. Then we put our footgear back on and headed for the summit.

The Mason Dixon Line isn't quite to the top. Nevertheless, I found a lovely, big flat rock whereon to stretch my weary body and eat a banana. The two guys who were a ways ahead of us (after passing us around mile three...) were coming back down as we cooled off, and Bob heard them as they flew by. One said to the other, "Damn, that banana smells good!" It made me laugh.

And since I know banana peels are great fertilizer for roses (try it sometime!) and other flowering plants, I do not consider my next move "littering." The rhododendrons will thank me.

Almost at the summit, I chalked up Injury #2 when I came at the concrete pad next to the, um, facilities at an angle. In every fall, there is a lesson; the lesson for this one was, "Head on is best." The angle caused me to flip my bike, and I landed on the same elbow I'd smacked on the asphalt a week earlier. (Lesson for that fall: If you must ride in sandals, make sure your panniers are set well back, out of range of the dismount.)

I'll tell you a secret: Concrete has a LOT less "give" than asphalt. Who'd've thunk?

By this time, I was not only the proud owner of a still slightly bloody shin and a throbbing elbow, but I also had flames shooting out of my extreme upper thighs. I broke down. To this point, I'd determinedly kept the headphones in my bag, choosing to listen instead to the woods, the train, the breeze. That last few miles, though, it was only Delbert McClinton on the iPod that kept my feet pushing 'round in circles.

And with that, I'll say, "Nighty-night - more later, kids!"

10 June 2010

Monday, May 31, I achieved another milestone in my life as a cyclist. I rode 42 miles a day for three consecutive days - one of them mostly uphill.

And I only hurt myself twice!

On Friday, May 28 - Mom's 82nd birthday, by the way, and sorry I missed it, Mom! - I met my kid brother Bob in Cumberland, MD, for a three-day ride. Made it safely, in spite of heavy rain - and a rainbow that stood still long enough for me to get pictures, which to my mind cancels out the whole "bad weather" thing. The bike rack went in the car and the bike in the trunk about halfway there; the straps on the rack kept getting slack, and I was having scary visions of Nellie Belle flying off in the middle of I-64 and causing a wreck, thereby getting me sued and ruining my weekend.

Item #1 on the birthday list: a Saris bike rack. Don't need a 3-bike model like Bob's - a 2-bike model would be fine. Even a solo would do nicely.

We had dinner at a little Italian place just north of exit 40 on I-68. His lasagna looked yum. My spaghetti and meatballs was good, except it wasn't spaghetti. I know cappelini cooks up faster, but let's face it - something commonly known as "angel hair" just isn't substantial enough to stand up to a hearty meat sauce. That's okay - the sauce was really good, and I got what I was after, which was a healthy load of good carbs and protein.

Saturday morning was the beginning of a good lesson in packing light. I went through everything I'd loaded for the trip and pared it down by a quarter. My panniers, handlebar bag, and seat wedge already topped out at a total of 20 or 25 pounds, which Bob granted was remarkable - especially given that I hadn't really tried to keep it light on the first pack. Among the items I eliminated getting it under 20 lb:
• Two small notebooks (I usually carry three on trips - one for work-related flashes of genius, one for personal brilliant insights, and one for lists)
• About half of my first-aid gear - a major leap of faith
• And two bottles of Magic Hat "Wacko" summer brew, which I'd planned to wrap in my towel so they'd travel safely - just a little reward each evening on the trail

Things that made the cut:
• The current crochet project (cotton mesh cycling gloves, my own design)
• The "lists" notebook
• Two changes of non-cycling type clothes
• Paperback copies of books-in-progress:
o The Cider House Rules, by John Updike
o Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken
o and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
• My towel (refer to Hitchhiker’s Guide if you don’t get it)

Okay - technically, the towel is an oversized washcloth – about 9” square – but it turned out to be quite adequate.

Breakfast at Roy Rogers – I kept the tray liner for the guy in the next cube at the office, who has fond memories of breakfast at Roy Rogers when he was a kid. Roy Rogers now has wi-fi, as advertised on the tray liners. Ol’ Roy may not be spinning in his grave, but he’s mystified, I’m sure.

BTW, I’m not wild about Roy Rogers’ burgers, but I definitely recommend their breakfast menu. They have real eggs, not something out of a milk carton-looking thing. And their breakfast fries are recognizable slices of honest-to-goodness potatoes. With skins on. The croissants aren’t bad, either - all the way ‘round, if you’re looking for good carbs and protein, Roy definitely works.

Found our way to the trail head, parked and registered our cars, and then Bob convinced me to duck into the cycling shop and get a pair of gloves. (I have no idea where my old ones are.) He was right – it was worth the $30 in the long run – but I wasn’t expecting to spend that before we ever took off. I could’ve gotten a perfectly serviceable pair in Louisville for less than $15. Oh, well. Guess I need to crochet faster.

Leaving the cycle shop, we ran into a guy who’d been at RR earlier – Larry Brock. He’d been at the Del McCoury concert at the Cumberland fairgrounds the night before and was going back that evening. He was wearing socks with the Grateful Dead skull and lightning bolt emblem – fit right into our little family, he did. He assured me I was going to love the trail between Cumberland and the Eastern Continental Divide - coming back...

Right after that, I took a little spin around the shopping center and sustained injury #1: hit the loose gravel under the bridge, braked too hard, lost control, and tipped. As my feet came down, my left shin connected with the splash guard on the back of the front fender and made a not-so-neat 1 ½ inch gash right over the shin bone. Flashback to July 2009 ... But I knew exactly where my first-aid supplies were, and there was no fat or bone showing through, so no panic. Patched myself up and pedaled on.

(Definitely not pretty, though. It’s going to leave a scar.)

A bit past noon – later than we’d planned – we hit the trail.

To be continued ...

09 May 2010

Co'Cola

A few years ago, my son went to Thailand with a work group for a couple weeks, and he brought me back a treasure: a real Coke.

Remember what Coke tasted like before high fructose corn syrup? Sweet, but not sticky. In fact, it had the tiniest bit of a bite - just a hint of something, I don't know... spicy, or maybe even peppery. When you poured it into a glass and took a sip before it settled, the frothy bubbles tickled your nose. I know - they still do, but not in the same way. It was a delicate tickle, a light, icy sizzle, not the obviously bubbly pop-pop-pop you get now.

Back home, in North Carolina, we called them "Co'Colas." A coke - lower-case "c" - was any carbonated soft drink. (I expect it made the Coke people crazy, kind of like it does the Kleenex people when you refer to any facial tissue as a "kleenex.") The new ones, the ones they call "Coke Classic," aren't Co'Colas. They really are different.

Since Mitch's trip to Thailand, I've found if you look, you can get Co'Colas here in the States. You just have to know where to look.

Last week, my daughter took me on a field trip to an Asian market in the South End. I bought Chinese Five Spice blend - all the good Asian cookbooks call for it, but try finding it at Kroger, or even Whole Foods! I bought fat, crunchy bean sprouts, and I bought plum wine. And I bought Cokes.

Apparently, the Asian and Hispanic communities are not as susceptible to HFCS hype as we Anglos. I've known all along that high fructose corn syrup was (you'll pardon my saying) not the same as cane sugar, contrary to what the corn syrup marketers would have you believe. Yes, it has the same calories. Yes, it's sweet, just like sugar. But there's something about it - probably something in the process of condensing corn sugar into syrup - that gives me a blazing headache. So I've been drinking diet sodas for decades, ever since I made the connection using the doctor-recommended "elimination diet." Believe me, it doesn't take too many episodes of having your brain burst into flames and scorch your eyeballs from the inside to convince you that whatever does it is a Bad Thing.

But the thing is, there is also a difference in the taste. If you don't believe me - if you're absolutely convinced there is no difference whatsoever in corn syrup and sugar - get yourself to your nearest Asian or Mexican market and buy a Coke there. They still pack them in 12-ounce glass bottles, the kind we used to put a 3-cent deposit on, then got our deposit back or credited it to the next Coke when we returned the empty bottle to be reused. (Hey, we recycled in the '50s and '60s - who knew?!)

I bought two Cokes last week. They don't set my head on fire like the American-market kind, but they still have significant empty calories. I like to have them for treats when I've been working hard.

I just drank the second one. There's still a teensy bit of dark caramel-colored liquid in the bottom of the glass, under the ice. I'll sip Coke-flavored icy water for a few minutes more, as the ice melts and the flavor gets thinner and thinner.

And I'll wonder, as I always do when I have one of these fizzy, icy treats: How come we affluent, educated, diet-obsessed Westerners shrug off marketing hype and don't even question the corn syrup marketers when they lie to us? They lie about the taste - and there's real evidence they lie about the health effects. (I could get scientific here, but for the sake of brevity, I'll stick to the headache thing for now.) How come we turn a blind eye to the obvious? Clearly, enough people don't that the Coke people can continue to profit by making real Coke to sell somewhere.

Go figure.

07 May 2010

The new digs

The new job is going to be a challenge.

You who know me well know I'm at my best when I'm churning out words. I have never met a software application that could defeat me, but a couple have come close - namely, Access and Microsoft Project. Not that they're especially intimidating, but they do more than I've ever needed, and they require an equivalent degree of focus. My theory is that the software is supposed to make it easier, not harder.

However, I am process-oriented. I want to know the steps. Give me the directions from Point A to Point D, and I'll get there. And then I'll go back and look at the maps and bike the route and find a more efficient way.

This job is all about the process. Five different applications in at least three different platforms, with anywhere from six to 10 windows open at any given time, and you have to remember which is which and what the steps are as you zoom back and forth between this app and that. I sense a Six Sigma project to be worked up - which is great, because I've been looking for one for two years. After I learn the current route...

Meanwhile, I'm in a whole new space. To paraphrase one of my favorite heroines, "Toto, I don't think we're in Corporate anymore..." The building where I've moved has a beautifully restored, early-20th century facade, a hip, 1990s-industrial-materials-artsy lobby, and fabulous, Hitchhiker's Guide-worthy electronic elevators that shuffle people about from floor to floor in the most efficient way conceivable. Beyond the lobbies and elevators, though, it has plain beige walls, massive industrial columns stuck in the middle where you'd least expect them, and hundreds of cubicles - just like everywhere else, only more so.

My new space doesn't have the light my old space had, up the street in the Tower. There's no 9-inch glass panel at the top of the cube wall to create an airy feeling or a sense of awareness of one's neighbors. (There's also no piped-in "white noise" to mask the loud voice of the guy one row over.) And I have to walk halfway across the floor to get to a window.

On the other hand, that window has a river view - even clearer than the one from the Tower window. I have a wide-open shot at the Second Street Bridge, which is the central platform for the fireworks during Thunder Over Louisville, at the kick-off of Derby season. (The secondary platforms are two barges parked on either side of the bridge. It's pretty amazing. Fourth of July in D.C. can't hold a Roman candle to it. Honest to God.)

Up at the Tower, on West Main, we have the Kentucky Center for the Arts across the street. We have the Bristol a block up - a lovely mid-priced lunch, equally nice for dinner. Upscale casual. Two blocks up is the place with the red penguins... What is it? Oh, yeah. 21C. The 21C Museum and Hotel. Seriously upscale-but-casual. (I mean that in the most upscale sense.) Art to Be Reckoned With. Spendy drinks in the bar. I don't want to know the price of a room.

A block east of the Tower, there's Z's. They have "signature" martinis - need I say more? Great location for a Girls' Friday - where you sit in trendy upholstered chairs that don't let you get up 'cause they're so soft and squashy, set your martini on a glass-topped coffee table while you dish the dirt, bitch about whatever needs bitchin' about, and laugh for a couple hours - but not a particularly cozy hangout. Or one that fits into my budget more than once a month or so.

I'd never ventured much to East Main. When I was at Riverview Square (the Building That Time Forgot - and that Metro Louisville imploded to make room for the new arena) at the foot of the Second Street Bridge, there was nothing down there except the Marriott Courtyard, the sandwich stand inside the LG&E building, and a couple blocks of abandoned buildings that once were glorious. As far as I knew, there wasn't much to see at that end of the street. Even after I started passing through regularly a couple summers ago, when I started biking to work, it didn't look especially different. The businesses still mostly had that "old dive" look - bars and sandwich places, holes in the wall. My bike shop was down there, but on Market, a block south, and still surrounded by empty storefronts and second-hand stores.

Farther down, east of Waterside, were a few new buildings - sleek, windswept architecture between the old industrial places and Slugger Field - and businesses were moving in, taking over the old places and making them into antique emporiums, ad agencies, landscaping concerns. Some of them - the ugliest, most disreputable - were becoming luxury condos. Gentrification rules, right? But between Second Street and somewhere east of Slugger Field, it was still a mess - a falling-down, waste-of-space, could-be-wonderful mess.

This week, I've been settling into my cubicle in the Waterside Building. I've been establishing what I know, what I don't, what I'm going to have to work at. And yesterday and today, I went to lunch with other Tower expatriates on the east end of Main.

Thursday, Denise and I ate at O'Shea's, the new "Irish pub" in the 100 block of East Main. We've been there before - it's the new location of choice for getting-laid-off parties and crying-in-your-beer parties. Yesterday was the first time I'd had lunch there, and I promise you, the French onion soup is divine and the Caesar salad is ginormous. (And the overdose of fiber almost killed me later in the afternoon... but it was worth it. I think.)

This morning, I ran into Alex, my urban-gardening friend, on the way in from the garage. (BTW, the garage where I'm now assigned is worlds better than the one up on the "upscale" end of Main. It has light, cross-ventilation - and no mildew.) Later in the morning, I shot her an e-mail asking if she had plans for lunch, and we ended up at DeVino's, one of those "old dive" storefronts a block west. Inside, DeVino's is spacious, funky, and the decor is - what? Industrial Euro-Punk Urban Country. Perfect. Real. I want a set of lights like they have over the counter - a string of purple and gold grape clusters. Can't you just see 'em encircling the patio I'm going to build when this old deck finally falls down?!

And incidentally, I'm no longer willing to swear on a stack o' Bibles that Boomer's Canteen, up on the west end of Main, has the best BLT in town. DeVino's is damn good, and I got it with a side salad that rivals the one at the Come Back Inn. And that says a lot.

In recent weeks, I've also experienced another place I knew was there all along, a blues bar called Stevie Ray's. I'd always wanted to check it out, and I finally had the chance last month. It's another "dive-front," with - as it turns out - a good bar, live music, and an actual dance floor. And of course, there's Slugger Field - a favorite of my son's and mine, and we're meeting there after work next Wednesday - and a block west of there is the original BBC (Bluegrass Brewing Co.) location, where I've also never been. (I have been to the newer location on Frankfort Avenue, and BBC microbrews are available in stores hereabouts. They're excellent.)

So given my experience so far, I'm looking forward to checking out some more of the disreputable-looking places on my new end of Main Street.

I guess what it boils down to, at the end of my first week East of Second, is I'm starting to get it: the west end of Main is uptown. It's trendy. It's hip. It's upscale-urban artsy. Down here on the east end of Main is downtown. Funky. Dive-fronted. And wide-open inside - expansive and homey in an eclectic, indefinable way. Uptown was good for wearing heels and making sure everything matched (but not too much) and California Club salads at the Bristol. Downtown, DeVino's has the new Best BLT in Town. Stevie Ray's is the best venue for Girls' Night Out All Night Long Until They Call "Last Call." The cafeteria in the Waterside Building doesn't have low-fat ice cream, but O'Shea's has a lunch menu to die for, if you want to die for a lunch menu.

And - bottom line - downtown suits me fine.

02 May 2010

Regardless.


I guess I can.



I can if she can.


I will if she will...


Damn.

My little sister - one of my best friends in this world - has just received a diagnosis of breast cancer. We've spend three days zooming from medical jargon to COBRA battle, from open vs. closed MRI to holistic treatment center vs. surgeon you know, from "fight" to "hide under the covers" and back again. Sometimes in the span of about 15 seconds, give or take five or six.


Oh, yeah - and from "there's the couch, there's the linen closet, you know how to use 'em" to "OMG, who cleaned the bathroom for me - I am SO embarrassed!" As if she had nothing else to worry about than what her siblings thought of her housekeeping.


To Little Sister - for the record:
  • The couch worked fine, and the linens were all of a highly acceptable thread count, which is more than I can say for some hotels I've stayed in. 
  • The bathroom wasn't that gross, and whoever cleaned it for you probably just did it as a favor, not as an oblique criticism. One less thing for you to worry about.
  • And BTW, the fact that he (face it - it wasn't me, so it must've been your brother) cleaned the bathroom probably had at least as much to do with my toiletries and sundry items covering the vanity as anything else. (Not to mention my black pumps on the floor and the two options for Wednesday Wardrobe on the inside door knob.)
  • And if you weren't freaking out, I'd really worry. I'm freaking out, and I haven't been subjected to the Invasion of the Body-Snatching Mutant Cells.

Much of my sister's stress comes from struggling to reconcile her innate need for independence with her health-imposed need for assistance. Even more of it comes from the fact that she's known for more than two years that something was wrong, but she couldn't get any of the healthcare professionals in her local system to do more than shrug. Bottom line: They didn't do the follow-up. They didn't check the details. They assumed. And they were wrong.


And some of her stress comes from the rest of us.


She knew something was wrong – and now, she has to get her head around the idea that she was right. And that she's lost two of the years she could have used to beat this thing. That she may lose both breasts instead of a little chunk out of one. That the tumors might have invaded other spaces by now. That the delay could cost her life.

And she's getting flak about "how the rest of us feel." Please.


Screw that. The average – or even above-average – human being doesn't have enough brain cells to handle all that. The rest of us are on our own; this woman needs to focus on what she needs to survive. And if that's hard to do – if it means she's all over the map emotionally and intellectually – well, blame the idiots who should have looked harder two years ago.


Okay, deep breath... Pedal on regardless.

What's the point? For me, it's how to keep pedaling.


I start a new job on Monday. This morning, I had to leave my beautiful sister alone to tie up the loose ends of the work we did earlier in the week. I haven't been on my bike in about eight days. I'm emotionally drained, intellectually fried, and physically in bad need of a good stretch. And I have my own annual touch-base with my GYN (who, incidentally, reminds me of my sister) in about 9 hours, which is why I had to leave Thursday instead of next Sunday.


So where does my "Pedal-On Manifesto" fit into this kind of psyche-crunching, body-slamming week? Okay... another deep breath.


What goes down must go back up. Sometimes it’s tough. Deal with it. Life's a bitch. On wheels. And it doesn't stop. (See above.) You do what you have to do. You keep moving. One foot in front of the other. One pedal rotation at a time.


If you let the fear of getting hurt stop you, you’ll never get out of the driveway. It might be easier to pull back, to disengage. This is going to hurt. No matter what happens in the end, it’s not going to be a fun year. But if I disengage, I lose time with one of my best friends. That's worse than having to endure some pain. Honest to God.


Life happens. Circumstances happen. You choose the perspective. No matter how you look at it, this sucks pond water. But in the last three days, I have learned:
  • The immeasurable value of that classic Southern approach of "catching more flies with honey than vinegar"
  • The importance of going to the source to be sure your information is accurate
  • The essential nature of second opinions
  • And the healing properties of dinner with your buddies – complete with fall-in-the-floor-laughing, disgustingly funny, "it really happened to my friend Barney" stories about body functions gone awry...

Keep going. I don't know that I can handle this. I don't know that any of us can. I do know other people have made it through, though, and I know if my sister will keep going, keep fighting, keep pedaling, I will. And when she can't pedal, we'll ride tandem.


She’s my baby sister. And I need her to know I’m right behind her, all the way.

Drama

April 22, 2010

I start a new job a week from Monday. New skills to learn - more technical tasks than what I do now, but still expanding on the writing and health literacy knowledge base.

I'm working from the road most of next week - loading up the computer and heading for NC. The bulk of what I'm doing between now and the office move is one-offs, anyway - editing short marketing pieces and letters to members. The big projects have been handed off already.

There's a threat of serious illness in the family, and I'm trying not to be scared. Success is elusive. I'm operating in gears B and D - Bargaining and Denial - with an occasional downshift to Avoidance.

The Tour de Cure is coming up in less than four weeks. It's great for Avoidance - lots to do, and I haven't done most of it yet... This week, for sure. Although I have been riding. Endorphins are better than meds.

And I'm scheduled for jury duty next week. The nice lady at the Jury Pool office sent me a duplicate Juror Qualification form and told me to request deferment so I could go to NC as planned. I really need to be there. I honestly don't mind jury duty - just not next week.

My desk  at the office is a rubble heap. I only just got boxes today. Guess I need to go down there and start putting stuff in 'em.

05 April 2010

Spring fever

Neil Diamond's "Forever in Blue Jeans" is stuck in my head.

The last four days have been hot and sunny, a little stormy, cool and breezy, warm and humid, warm and sunny, sunny and breezy, a little stormy, cloudy and humid, humid and breezy, and what happens next is anybody's guess.

I want to ride my bike to work tomorrow. I want to ride Wednesday and Thursday. The weather should cooperate if the forecast holds up. The question is what time it gets daylight, and that's not as easy to find on the Weather Channel. I need to bookmark the Old Farmer's Almanac - it's more dependable all the way round.

Work gets done, as always - but I want new projects, and if they're not immediately available, I'll make them up. My living room office space is almost done - partitioned book shelves from Target turn on their side make a perfect set of cubbies for paper, sticky notes, blank CDs, library books, and the shoes I kicked off an hour ago. Yard sale shutters wait in the corner to fit into skylights and windows on the ovenish second floor.  A delightful print - an Indian elephant, decked out in holiday finery and treading beautifully tiled floors - waits upstairs in the guest room to be hung; the neighbor put it out with the trash.

I bought a new mouse pad Saturday. It was in the 50-cent bin at Michael's Crafts - poppies. I'll go back to the Louisville Slugger one later in the summer, but now, I want poppies.

On the other hand, Cincinnati is kicking off their home season with a three-night stand against the Cubs. Wonder if Mitch could get two days off. I bet I could, if I take my computer and find a place with wireless internet so I could work after the game. I want to go to the Aquarium. I want to go to a baseball game. I want to see Soriano  - somebody - anybody (as long as it's a Cub!) hit one over the wall.

I want to ride my bike tomorrow - in a skirt. My daughter calls it "channeling Copenhagen." I want to be one of those women who rides a bike day in and day out and always looks like a woman, whatever the weather.

Must be spring.