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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.

Cold Enough For A Double Shot (And Tea…And Ramen)

Today’s 10K was a 100% rain event. In other words, it started raining 10 minutes before the gun, and it still has not stopped.

And it’s chilly in this part of the country. And while not even close to freezing, once you’re wet, it does not get better. I drove home wet. It was raining so hard that it made no sense to change to something dry. That kind of rain. I made it worse by stopping to help a friend’s daughter’s band at their state competition. I was already soaked, so what’s another hour outside?

I smelled like a wet dirty dog when I got home. So did pretty much everything I owned. A hot shower and a load of laundry cured the scent. And a double espresso did the deed for my tired insides. I followed it with glasses of hot green tea and ramen noodles in chicken broth. Thank goodness for a well-stocked pantry and no need to stop for anything on the way home. I would have been rowing across parking lots to get into a store.

Thanksgiving is this weekend. Life has not been fun for all of us, though things have improved for many post-pandemic. We’re working, though our money is not keeping up with the cost of our needs, let alone our wants. Politics still divide us, and the holidays haunt many who miss loved ones they’ve lost. Finding common ground is complicated. I look for very small things now, to reach out and hand someone a reminder that I’m here, I’ll talk, I’ll help and I’ll listen. Oh, and a hot cup of whatever suits you? I can bring that beverage, too.

And We’re Off! With An Espresso Boost, Of Course

The racing season is underway. One trail race, one asphalt race, and one swim meet are in the books. Coming up: another trail race and two asphalt races, and four swim meets in five months’ time. I am packing it in with doses of the athlete’s little helper: espresso and cappuccino.

The Husband and I hit 30 years of marriage this year. I have no idea how we got here without murder, mayhem, or madness as part of the equation. We don’t have kids, so that may have helped. We do have a lot of kindness and respect for one another. We say “please,” “thank you” and “I like your idea” a lot. We’ve worked hard and built a good life, and decided to splurge this year. Not on a fancy vacation, but an espresso machine. It makes some impressive hissing and grinding noises. And the liquid happiness from it is quite good.

I still seem to be one of those people for whom the caffeine-free lifestyle is not yet a necessity, thanks to being very active. And a moderate intake of coffee may be beneficial to your health. I know it is beneficial to my sanity since I am still working 40 hours a week. And it’s comforting to get up and wander into the next room to the coffee bar (an old sideboard that was my mother’s), outfitted with cups, water, fresh beans, and all the paraphernalia, including a framed coffee bean bag hanging above the machine. I can have a shot anytime, and leftovers go into chocolate protein shakes or poured over frozen yogurt.

At many races, I marveled at my fellow competitors chugging 16-ounce gas station coffee right before a race and wondered how they could do it without an immediate port-a-potty stop half-mile into the race, or risk pee-sodden shorts, socks, and shoes if they didn’t stop. An espresso shot makes sense: quick-starts the senses and the heart without overloading the bladder. I have not tried the shot-before-the-shotgun-start yet, but I will let you know.

In the meantime, the year is off and (literally) running. Oh, and six months and one week to retirement!

I Get Mad, I Eat Spaghetti

What is it about pasta (or almost any carbohydrate, for that matter) that makes the world a better place?

I especially crave pasta after a really bad day full of stuff going wrong. Curiously, I don’t eat carbs the night before most competitions (though I will have some plain oatmeal the morning of most events) because it’s too hard to sleep on it when I am already nervous about the next day.

I’m not even picky about pasta types. I like long ribbons, such as pappardelle and tagliatelle, substantial tube shapes like rigatoni, and curly fusilli. Basically, anything that holds a sauce well works for me. And sauce can be something as simple as butter, fresh basil, fresh cracked black pepper, and a lot of Parmesan cheese. My other half has a preference for white, cheesy sauces, but I like to mix Alfredo and tomato sauces.

I was fortunate to grow up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, with Italian, Irish, and German influences. My father had a lot of Italian longshoremen as friends, and when we visited, their tables were covered end-to-end with good food, no matter how large the family or how lean the times. There was always more than enough food, love, and laughs to go around. Everybody shared and traded what they had. My dad was in the clothing business, so he got a lot of sample stuff to give his friends, and they reciprocated by using their dockside contacts for fresh seafood. I ate a lot of shrimp and lobster that “fell off the boat” on a remarkably frequent basis.

I made a simple baked pasta tonight with ground turkey, two sauces, lots of cheese, and a mix of regular and whole grain pasta. A post-race treat; my first trail race that was longer than a 5K. The hardest, dirtiest thing I ever did. One small fall (courtesy of a hidden rock) but no real damage done. Lots of dirt, grass, deep sand, and tree roots. And rocks. Like life, obstacles that make you mad but also challenge you.

I survived the start of a new season.

Note To The Athletic Wear Industry: Are We Invisible? Or Too Big For You?

I don’t make excuses and don’t provide explanations, reasonable or otherwise, for what I look like.

But I’m asking the makers of workout clothes and footwear: why not us, too?

You make nice things in bright colors and patterns for the “typical” athlete. Somehow, as the sizes get larger, the choices get smaller.

Black and navy blue running shoes. Seriously, that is what I am stuck with being a size 10 1/2. I didn’t pick these feet. I just grew them. At one point, they were a more average size eight. But some body parts, like feet, change over time. Your nose and earlobes continue to grow with age. Feet get longer and wider thanks to gravity and less tension in tendons and ligaments. Your shoes are not keeping up. Just because my friends call me Bigfoot doesn’t mean I don’t want nice-looking running shoes that look sleek and provide stability. That funereal-looking footwear is just depressing. Even the laces are black or blue. Not even a small pattern of pop color to glam up the gloomy fact that you gave up when the shoes got into “geez, your feet are kinda big” territory.

And don’t get me started about workout clothes. Same issue: you think once sizes go above about a size 10 or 12, we hate ourselves enough to want your plain black or blue shirts, shorts, cycling kits, and swimwear and hide from the pack or blend into the background. I remind you that we have mirrors in our houses. We don’t need you to remind us that Lycra ®, spandex, and other clingy-type things are not flattering to bumps, bulges, and other bodily inconsistencies. We already know it. That’s why workout clothes that fit right and stretch and make us look like we belong out there matter. You work harder at a workout when you feel good and the movement flows. If I need to stop every few minutes to pull too-tight tights out of my butt or worry about side boob syndrome, it’s a problem.

I would love to tell you America is catching up to you and we are getting smaller and thinner as a nation. Nah. The pandemic did not help, despite all that new home gym equipment, bought in earnest but now likely stacked or shoved to one side of the living room, granted an occasional wistful and guilty look. America has gotten fatter faster than almost every other country, and more than half of us admit to gaining weight during the pandemic. So we are not dropping to your level. We’re trying, and you could help out with some honestly-sized workout gear that also looks nicer than an old tablecloth or youth camp sleeping tent.

And sorry about the rant. I just got back from looking for a new pair of running shoes. I was shown what was available in my size. Black and blue shoes.

The Fix-It List

It never fails. Every weekend, there is a to-do list.

Stuff to fix, take care of, buy, deal with, or otherwise handle.

I like lists. I live and die by them when I work every day. I would rather not do the same on the weekends. But that’s how life works.

This weekend’s list started with the sound of shattering glass at 3:45 Monday morning. A large glass-framed piece of artwork made its way off the wall and onto the floor. Glass breaking makes a lot of noise when the rest of the house is silent. Five days later, I am still finding a tiny glass shard here and there. So a new frame started the list.

Then came small paper cups, which I have not found; a strange thing to go missing from store shelves, but school starts in a week, so it may be a hot commodity for that reason.

Had to hit the bank, the pet store (kitty litter), and the gourmet food shop (The Husband likes certain banana brands over others, and who walks out of a place like that with only bananas), and before you know it, a stop or two becomes a list.

There’s the stuff on the list that just continuously stays there — researching retirement (now nine months away!) and what and where to race when the season starts in a month (with an 8K trail run). I need a new T-shirt shelf for my race shirts (which means clearing off some things) and the second pair of running shoes. Also putting together a cleaning and cooking schedule so that everything is done at home.

It’s going to be a great season with a lot of changes and things to look forward to. Life will change, but it will keep moving forward.

WWHD? (What Would Hilda Do)?

To misquote The Beatles, When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary does not come to me. The question, WWHD, or What Would Hilda Do, is what I often ask myself instead.

Hilda Bernstein was my great-aunt, my father’s aunt, and his mother’s sister-in-law, to make things clear (or not). She was quite the dame, as they used to say. Razor-sharp wit and very intelligent; the woman could swear in two languages (English and Yiddish), frequently in the same sentence. She didn’t really have a filter, though in polite company or with people she did not know, she certainly knew how to behave. And the gal had a sense of style and presence (her daughter, whom I still speak to and visit, inherited these qualities, minus the contentious conversational ability). Hilda was bold and unafraid of speaking her mind, regardless of how you or anyone else felt about it.

It’s funny how my dad used to threaten to take my brothers and I to her house and leave us there when we behaved badly; looking back on it, that would have been the best idea ever. A few days with her would have been an education into how people think and feel when unfettered by society’s rules regarding political and social correctness. She wasn’t overtly racist or particularly anti-anything, but she was a product of her genteel generation, her upbringing by Holocaust-era survivor parents, and the white-washed society clashing with the rising minority voices of the turbulent times of the 1960s and 1970s.

I think of her often these days (she and her beloved husband Moe are long gone) when I see politicians behaving badly on TV, puberty hormone-raging protesters destroying public property, gun violence against innocent school children and teachers, or even entitled shoppers throwing tantrums and making threats at a store because a clerk wasn’t quick enough or an item they wanted was out of stock. I know that she would be outraged and yell right back, even though it was likely right back at the TV. She would give them at least a piece of her mind (and then some) in two languages. But she would never take a swing at someone, never mind that she was one tall and tough lady. She wouldn’t stoop to vulgarity or meanness, though she could be intimidating. Hilda harks back to a time when it was OK to call out bad behavior and expect better, rather than excuse it, tolerate it, or worse, encourage it as a means of entitled self-expression.

I miss Hilda.

The End (of the race season) Is In Sight—And Retirement Is Coming!

The final road race of the season is Monday. A 5K with what passes for hills here. I did it last year and was not ready for the elevation meltdown at the end. This year, with additional practice on bridges and my kickboxing routine, I hope to do better.

I don’t race during the summer months, because Mama did not raise stupid, only crazy. It’s too hot here, even in the evening, for anything more than yard work and a cold drink. Oh, I still train; running and cycling happen early. And swim meets do happen in the summer. But road races are on hold until September.

Kickboxing has been fun and progress is happening. I get down and up off the floor faster and burn calories at a better rate. I also look at food differently. I can walk away from temptation more easily because it makes less sense to give in. I don’t look at it as “good” vs “bad” food any longer. It’s more about the food you need vs food you don’t need.

But the big news is that a retirement date has been chosen in May 2023. I am doing my research and getting the finances together to make it work. I will not take Social Security at that point (but will be Medicare-eligible) and plan to work part-time. After all, running shoes, bike repairs, competition swimsuits, and event fees don’t get cheaper. And we all know food prices aren’t going anywhere but up. I have a notebook for “Project Outta Here!” underway that has everything from projected expenses to a long list of potential part-time work opportunities. There are a lot of things I’d like to try for money and a few I’d want to do as a volunteer. I’ve never worked for myself, I have done a lot of freelance writing and definitely want more control over my life. After 45 years of full-time work (plus a few years of part-time employment combines with school), it’s not just time to move on, it’s time to invent a new life phase.

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.