Featured

I Spring-Cleaned To Exhaustion

It seemed like a good idea. Clean out the closet and clothes drawers, and donate to charity. It led to a pissy mood staring at my untidy pantry, pulling everything off the shelves, cleaning them, and ordering canisters, racks, and bins to reorganize everything.

It’s all my husband’s fault.

He was watching a cooking show on TV. The host showed her “messy” pantry and bemoaned the state of it: packages and boxes not lined up in perfect rows, baking products sharing space with spaghetti sauce jars, canisters unlabeled, and (horrors!) a whisk broom in the corner. Thanks to the magic of TV (and a few crew helpers, no doubt), the “after” pictures presented shelves and walls newly painted and glass containers in perfect rows, filled with pretty food.

I felt bad watching that. I felt worse when I looked at my pantry. But I did the right thing. I could find things in the pantry with no problem; if my husband had to locate a new bottle of mayo or a can of soup, he would get lost. So I emptied the shelves, tossed out truly expired food, cleaned the shelves, and ordered a set of canisters with airtight, locking lids, a canned goods rack, and two clear bins for small packaged products.

Staring at my dining room table and the card table alongside, filled with dry and canned goods, I am surprised at the duplication. Two containers of quinoa? Two canisters of bread flour? Two industrial-size rolls of aluminum foil? How does that happen?

The organization gear arrives mid-week. By next weekend, I will have pretty food, too. I do have a pretty clothes closet, along with a bag of donations (and a few items that were worthy only of the garage rag box).

The organization gear arrives mid-week. By next weekend, I will have pretty food, too. I do have a pretty clothes closet — and a bag of things to donate. The next project is the pots/pans/baking equipment collection that needs thinning out.

I Nailed The Trail (And Then Self-Cared With Fried Chicken)

I did my first 5K trail race this weekend. I finished second in the age group, but to be honest, there were only two of us in the group. And I was the third-oldest runner there.

Conditions were cool, foggy, and smoky (out in a rural area where burning is a common way of clearing land). I was hoping to see something of the surroundings, but the conditions declined my wishes. It was an hour-plus ride to the race, including traversing some dark roadways with nothing on them except other head and tail lights and a remarkable number of crossovers (giving you the chance to return to civilization, I guess). The race was small; a prelude to a much bigger all-day festival at a nearby campground. The town is small, mostly poor, mostly non-white residents — and one of the friendliest places I’ve been to in a long time. People come up and say hello. Runners commiserate about other recent running events, the weather, the real restrooms we had available, and what’s for breakfast post-race. People who don’t know you just walk up and start a conversation that isn’t about politics, vaccination status, or war. Not because those things aren’t important, but because it’s more rewarding to talk about normal things that don’t start a fight.

In my case, post-race was fried chicken. I’d been waiting for this for the 2 1/2 years since my last visit out here. I signed up for this racer to indulge in moist, steaming chicken, crispy skin, and a side of sweet tea. I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before the 10 a.m. opening and a gentleman ahead of me offered to let me go ahead of him in line. I declined, saying I was fine waiting a few extra minutes since I’d been waiting since 2019 to return. He looked a little surprised, and an explanation ensued; I was not from the area, had to make a special trip, did the race, etc. He told me he was there to pick up food for a trip across the state, so his 10-year-old could compete in a BMX event. Once inside, and while waiting for our orders, we talked about bikes, bike racing, what we did for a living, what we loved about fried chicken, and plans for retirement. This was in the span of about 25 minutes. And while we started as strangers in line outside a great fried chicken joint at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, we found a lot in common in a short period of time.

He had to leave for the long drive. I stayed, and I think I scared the help by inhaling my order. I looked like the zombie chicken lady: sweaty, no makeup, hair a mess, in my running shorts and a clean but smelly T-shirt, scraping up batter bits from the box and guzzling tea. There were no grease stains in the box; the chicken is never greasy, and in my case, it never sits in the box that long anyway. Just to be virtuous, I did order a vegetable on the side. Coleslaw counts, right?

As for another trail race, I am considering one in three weeks’ time, in the very park where I do my training. Coincidence, you think?

A Little (50K) Something Different

It won’t be my usual Saturday in two weeks. I am doing a 50K bike ride for charity.

It’s not the longest ride I’ve done. I’ve done century rides, and I did a three-day, 250-mile AIDS charity ride, but those rides were decades ago. I am older now, prone to pain and stiffness upon getting out of bed, executing sudden movements, or doing simple things like pushing a vacuum cleaner around the living room.

I am doing it for charity, of course. It’s for a local children’s hospital. The folks there do great work, overseeing everything from Level 1 Trauma to clinical trials for almost 40,000 children every year. The event was canceled due to COVID-19 for the last two years, and before that, I could never get in because participation demand was greater than allowable space. I made it in for this year, and I figured that challenging myself with kickboxing lessons also meant summoning the courage to add a really long cycling session to the mix. Because that’s what this is. It’s not a race or even a timed event. It’s a chance to meet new people and be involved with something bigger and more meaningful, and contribute a bit to families who never thought sitting by a very sick or injured child’s bedside, wondering if they could pay the inevitable medical bills, was going to be part of their parenting process.

I am working out pretty hard now because I don’t want to grow old and sedentary. I have friends in my general age group who cannot walk well or get up from a seated position without help, let alone get any meaningful exercise. I don’t want to be these people. I don’t want to give up because body parts gave up from disuse. If I wear out body parts from extensive use, that’s different. There are some fixes for that. But to be in a position to work out and contribute to a charity doing it is really a blessing.

If you would like to help out with the hospital’s work, you can donate here on my registration page. The event is on March 6.

It’s Perfectly Cold Out There…So Where Is Everyone?

It was 38 degrees outside for my run this morning. Cold by our local standards. Not bad, according to the rest of the country, mostly either brushed or buried in snow, freezing rain, black ice, and/or temperatures with single digits and/or negative values.

So where was everyone this morning? I was the only runner out there. One guy on his bike, a few souls in puffy coats walking dogs wearing heavy sweaters. Was everyone heeding the days-long cries of the TV weather nerds and staying inside, snug in their Uggs and blankets and huddled around their space heaters?

This is fabulous weather for walking and running, though the wind might make cycling a bit tough without extra layers. I am glad the pools are closed today, Yesterday, at 45 degrees, getting out after practice was a singularly unpleasant experience; the post-practice hot shower reward helped.

Cold weather, and foul weather in general, is good workout weather. Other than the lightning and obvious monsoon conditions, less-than-ideal environments for practice mean preparation for the worst. You don’t get to pick race-day conditions like water and air temperature and last-minute course changes. Adding them to your daily workouts readies you for whatever comes on race day. I love way less-than-perfect days for training. They get my mind ready for less-than-perfect race conditions. And the reward afterward, whether it’s that hot shower or nice breakfast. It’s also a mood-enhancer. As in, hey, I did this! I conquered this thing, even though it was uncomfortable. I accomplished this and I am better and closer to my healthy living goal for it.

And for the days when outdoors isn’t possible, I now have kickboxing classes added to my workout agenda. Good for coordination, balance, hand-eye skills, weight loss, and enhancing the other sports. Oh, and there is the combat skill aspect. As I get older, I don’t want to be a purse-snatching or assault target. This gray-haired lady is getting some badass, beat up the bad guy skills as a bonus.

“Black Everest” And Why It Matters

I’m tired. So much for the holidays. Working over 40 hours, caring for a house and spouse, keeping up with all things COVID, and of course, working out. I added a new routine to my routine, but that’s for another post.

This one is about people who are probably more tired than me on any given day. They are also more driven. They have to be. They are heading for Mt. Everest.

Full Circle Everest is an all-Black expedition, the first of its kind with the goal of climbing Earth’s tallest mountain. Eight men, three women, with very diverse backgrounds, but a shared love of travel, challenge, the outdoors, and making a difference will begin the adventure more than 10,000 other climbers have done since the first attempt in 1921, and the first successful summit by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Of the thousands who have tried, only 10 Black climbers have attempted the journey: 29,032 feet, requiring about two months for the ascent and almost as long for the descent — if the weather is good and you’ve done the training and preparation and nothing goes wrong.

Why are they doing it, aside from the challenge that it’s out there and they can?

Because Blacks are heavily underrepresented when it comes to the great outdoors. Blacks make up 40% of the US population, but visitors to national parks are overwhelmingly white (70%). Where you live also dictates access to open spaces and sports facilities: Blacks and other people of color are more likely to live in urban areas that don’t offer playgrounds, pools, soccer fields, gyms, and tennis courts. Maintaining these facilities is expensive, and towns and cities with lower tax bases cannot afford to do so. Blacks with lower incomes and less vacation time are less likely to take advantage of sports recreation as a pastime or provide their children with swimming lessons, dance instruction, or simply the free time to enjoy nature. It’s about inclusion and diversity and spreading the word that the outdoors should not discriminate.

And there is racism. The fear of the person you don’t know engaging in an activity that for so long has been white-dominated. And doing it in such an in-your-face big and dangerous way as to put it out there and really tempt Fate. It makes people uncomfortable, angry, nervous, and afraid. In the case of Full Circle Everest, it makes people envious, I’ll bet. The snack cake-stuffing, soda pop-quaffing, pizza-puffed minions on their couches are not happy about the nerve of this group.

Good. Let ’em stay on the couch. You go Full Circle to Everest. We will be watching and cheering. And if you want to show a little love and support, check out this link.

Just Like That, Three Weeks Gone

Hard to believe a person could be this tired. Three weeks of competing do not get easier as the body gets older.

It was fun, though. Fitting everything in, changing the thought process fairly rapidly, and staying focused takes a lot out of a person. But I don’t recommend it, and I don’t plan to do it again anytime soon.

The next two weeks are about the holidays, and friends, gifts, baking, visiting, and trying to relax a bit. Of course, I did give myself the gift of a new athletic venture. I started boxing and kickboxing. Fine, go ahead and laugh. It’s actually a good idea. Works the hand-eye coordination and balance stuff; skills that aging tends to take away. Very different from the run-bike-swim rut I am so used to doing every day. Turns out that I cannot jump rope, which is the opening cardio station for every workout. I mean, I really cannot jump rope. I have the coordination of a doorknob. But everything else I can handle fairly well.

It’s been a year, folks. Two years, really. Seeing few people, going few places, caution and calculated risk the order of every day. When does normalcy come back? It doesn’t, for now. But living our lives while adapting to shortages can be a positive revelation; if you can’t find what you like or what you want, it’s a perfect opportunity to try something new. Many of us find or have found that the 9-to-5 job routine is overrated, and made changes (count me in on this; I am looking for a new job). We’re prioritizing ourselves and taking the four-letter words “self-care” seriously.

So raise a glass of whatever’s your preference, to ourselves. To the end of year two of life as we now know it. To surviving (and missing those who did not), learning to thrive differently, and not being afraid of what’s next, but remembering to wash our hands, maintain some space, and take the masks along for life’s next carnival ride.

Three Weeks Of Work…Or Insanity?

This weekend starts the first of three competition weekends, and I don’t normally ever do three weeks in a row. I have no idea what I was smoking when I thought this was a good idea.

First up is 60K cycling (20K, a 30-minute rest, then 40K) for the senior games. Next week is a solid weekend of swimming, then a 10K road race to finish out the year. Good thing Christmas comes next and there’s nothing to do but rest (and eat) because I may not be moving too well by then.

Not a real complaint here; I’ve done what I can to be ready for everything and my gear is good to go. Not sure about how the body will hold up, but there are solutions for that, thanks to a well-stocked medicine cabinet.

I am thankful to be able to move and go forward when so many others my age cannot do so. So many are dead and affected long-term by COVID (and many more could be with the new variant). Many cannot or are unwilling to travel due to financial considerations or the possibility of infection. Our new normal is governed by the very real possibility of never returning to the expectations of a pre-pandemic world, living within the confines of cautious movement and being careful before carefree thinking, only to consistently meet aggressive and hateful messages from others who slam us for thinking health and safety first.

Go forth in the competition world, my friends, but do it with thoughts of your health and the health of others in mind. Think about how you would feel, sick and alone, contemplating your end because of someone else insisting their freedoms were the most important thing on earth. Let’s get the science right, without fear and panic.

Commit First, Deal With Details Later

Getting back into the swing of competing was never going to be easy. But over the summer, when two surgeries took me out of the game, I now realize it was easier than I thought to forget just how hard it was to plan and think and execute, while still working and taking care of everything else, while still living life.

Then I saw a feature on TV about a mountain climber named Jimmy Chin, who’s a photographer, filmmaker, and adventure-junkie. He was dedicated to his crafts long before anyone recognized his greatness, paid him for it, piled on the accolades and awards, and even fall in love, marry and have a family with him. He loves risky and extreme environments and the extraordinary stories produced when humans dare to go there. From stills to full-length feature films he produces with his wife Chai Vasarhelyi, every shot tells more than the story you see. It tells you his story and how he climbed his way from a comfortable and conventional childhood to the literal summit of success.

One thing Chin mentioned in the TV clip is how he prepares for difficult situations, whether it’s scaling a mountain or filming a new documentary. His motto: “Commit, then figure it out.” In other words, say yes, then work out the nitty-gritty of how to get there. By placing the goal ahead of the execution, you’re more than halfway there. You’ve already locked yourself in, signed on the dotted line, paid the price of admission. His idea goes against my normal mode of planning, thinking, worrying, and working out the details first. But what comes across initially as a pretty free-spirited way of doing things really isn’t. It pushes the petty details aside for a moment, allowing you to say “I can do this!” minus the “What if?” and “Coulda, woulda, shoulda” that comes with big, bold decisions.

I decided to adopt the idea and sign up for a 50k bike event next March. Two months before the national Senior Games, but why not? Good cause, never done the event, and it’s a first step forward in committing first.

Mom’s Life In A Box

My mother passed away almost 10 years ago, and it was time to finish what we started a few years back: getting rid of the paperwork mountain she collected over the years.

My mother did not own a shredder, or a computer, or a belief system that allowed her to part with any piece of paper that might matter. She was outrageously meticulous in her record keeping; I have to give her that accolade. Statements from banks, credit card companies, Medicare and insurance companies were filed by month and year, and every one of them had receipts, proof of services rendered, cancelled checks, and anything else she needed to ensure what the statement said she spent was what she actually spent. And if it did not match, there was a not to call someone: “CS” for customer service, “DR” for doctor’s office, “B” for bank and so on.

Every piece of paper clipped or stapled to another piece of paper was lined up, right side up, in size order. She wasn’t doing this for tax purposes, really. She was only working part-time and on Social Security, so it wasn’t an issue of tax deductions, since she wasn’t earning enough to pay taxes in the first place. Her mind was incredibly orderly almost to the end and physical pain overwhelmed her. She only used a ledger-style checkbook; the better to track her income and expenses. It’s stunning that we have 70 pounds of paper in a clear plastic box to bring to the next community shredding event; she had no need to save all those documents once she finished reconciling them. But I marvel at the precision, and that her version of a numbers game, along with doing crossword puzzles in ink, going to theater and movies every week and dining with friends regularly kept her sharp as long as it did. She was living proof that challenging the brain every day keeps it going.

Miss you, Mom. Wish you were still here. Ten years is a long time.

My House Is Stupid Clean Now

The place has not looked this good for 106 days.

That’s how long it’s been since my foot surgery, when I panic-cleaned for a week.

I know. Even I am shocked by this. It’s been since Thanksgiving, 2019 that company has crossed our threshold. Prepping for visitors is hard work. Even if they are people who know you well, and don’t really care about how the place looks, you still care.

So you sweep, mop, dust, polish, put stuff away, and try to turn your house into a cross between a five-star hotel and modern museum. It just needs to last for the duration of the visit, and you can go back to your old lazy, slob-comfy self.

In my case, my niece is coming, and doing better at housekeeping is not a big stretch. She has her hands full as a teacher, dog and cat mom, swim coach, after-school tutor, and owner of an old house where the end of one project means the next dozen or so are still waiting. I understand the commitment necessary in maintaining an aging abode, as my house is 40 years old. Her house is almost 60 years old, and while it has a lot of 1960s charm and quirk, it also has a lot of 1960s issues. She grew up with parents whose idea of clean would not have passed muster at the local trash dump. Her siblings consider things tidy when they can maneuver around the piles, rather than put things away. So the bar isn’t exactly set all that high.

But we will enjoy the weekend; she is heading to the hotel where my brother and his family are staying, to enjoy the amenities for the day. As a teacher, she has earned a little rest and a chance to put homeowner and work issues aside.

And I promise to keep the house tidy for at least one additional day after she leaves. Just to prove I can.