So long, it’s been good to know you.

I’m not really saying goodbye. It’s just the song that went through my head as I thought about how long it’s been since I’ve written on my blog.

The summer and fall have been a difficult two seasons for my extended family. We have all been making difficult adjustments to my mother (90) coming out of the hospital a little weaker, a little more uncertain of her surroundings. We’ve also, as a family been struggling with helping my sister, who is schizophrenic and sometimes suicidal, find more stable ground. I must add that though I say “we”, it is mainly my noblest of siblings living in Iowa who have taken on the majority of the work. I watch and worry 250 miles away, getting back to Iowa once a month to be of what little assistance I can be, mostly a break for the two sisters and one brother who carry most of the weight.

I know many baby boomers are at this point in their lives, caring for elderly parents while marshaling their kids through high school and college, so I know we aren’t alone in this, though it so often feels that way. As I think on these things, I recall something I read only this morning about how the search for happiness can sometimes seem selfish (especially in the midst of so much pain) but that in fact, happier people have more to contribute to others and so I continue on with my commitment to being happy regardless of the circumstances and you know what, it’s all there, all the reasons, all the joy, all the love that make life worth living! I am grateful to be able to continue to call my mother and sister every day and talk about the changing of the seasons, the autumn colors and the coming winter.

Check it out, my new on-linebook store

My screenplay, “Pink Pussycat Boutique”, a fairy tale, sort of, based loosely on how I met my beloved, now available for purchase. Critiques welcome!

Also still available, my Novella, “Secrets of Grace and Splendor”.

Reflections on riding Ragbrain 2011

My father had a saying, “Shoot for the stars and you might hit the side of the barn.” I guess he was trying to be funny, but as a member of the “dream big” generation of the 70’s and 80’s, I thought he was being a bit too cynical. I think of him now as I reflect on my Ragbrain (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa NOT) experience.

My dream was big, turning sixty, a team named after my mother (Marvel’s Marvels),siblings crossing our home state as senior citizens atop our mighty bikes. The dream started to fall apart in May, when one of the team members announced that she would not be doing the ride. That brought us town to a team of one. (An important lesson, this, that a team should likely have at least four members).

As a team of one, I looked around me for others to join me. Could my husband take a week off work? Could I hook up with any strangers from the area who might be going? It was already June. Things were looking bleak.
Then the unspeakable happened, my mother passed out and landed in the hospital for a week.

That was the beginning of July.

Mom’s back home doing better after only a month out of the hospital. She turns 90 on August 3rd, when my eldest son turns 21. I turn 60 September 7th. The summer of birthday celebrations is not going according to my original plans. I’m hitting the side of the barn more often than the stars.

Dad has been gone for the 21 years of my son’s life, plus one. His birthday is August 15th.

Maybe Dad wasn’t trying to be funny at all. Maybe he was just trying to tell me something about life, like that hitting the side of the barn happens, too, and…well, really, no big deal, right Dad?

What’s that more recent cliche that I dislike so much, “shit happens”?

And then there’s this one, that I learned a long time ago, “turning shit to roses.” I’m working on it, Dad.

The Power of “the Power of Vulnerability”

I’ve been at my computer watching some exciting and relevant internet material and wanted to share my favorite, Bene Brown’s TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”. She’s a social scientist and has been conducting research into people’s ability to feel connected and is reporting back to the tribe that, guess what, shame causes a disconnection. (She’s also funny and fun to watch which is amazing for someone whose reporting on research). The underpinnings of shame, she says, is our lack of belief in ourselves or, as she calls it and I have heard it called before, the phrase “I’m not good enough” (replace with, I’m too old, as I find myself approaching sixty).

Whole hearted people have the courage to do three things: 1) ride on long bike rides with people who have much faster bikes and are always “passing on their left”. Wait, no, that’s my definition.

Here’s hers:

1) tell others who you are with your whole heart, including the truth. Another way, I think of saying “being authentic about being inauthentic”.

2) be compassionate, and that includes with yourself. (doesn’t that immediately knock out number one. I mean, really, telling the truth about yourself and being compassionate towards yourself seem contradictory or is that just me?)

3) Embrace your vulnerability. (I like to think of sexy movie stars when I think of this one, people like Julia Roberts who looks so hot with tears in her eyes.)

“Let ourselves be seen” is Bene Brown’s battle cry. “I am enough” she claims for herself and us. “Practice gratitude. Lean into joy.” Such inspirational advice.

So today, just to test ride my new vulnerability, I thought I’d share a joke I wrote in my head while riding in a downpour on the back country roads of rural Minnesota.

“What did the chicken who was crossing the road say to the girl who was riding her bicycle?”

“Get out of my way, bitch, or I’ll call the cocks.”

One tough chicken. I’m inspired.

A Day of Light, Your Lucky Day, Friday, May 13th

I posted the Mary Oliver poem as a gift to everyone who has been reading my posts and also because today I will be biking my longest run to date, forty miles, and I needed something inspirational. I love that idea, “Make of yourself a light.” It can be done anytime anywhere. Yesterday, when I was walking my bike across a narrow bridge where construction workers were working on expanding the pathway, I had a friendly chat with the workers. They asked me if it was more or less exercise when I walked my bike and I said I figured it was more because I can’t coast when I’m walking my bike. They laughed. A simple, friendly exchange because really, what I was thinking at the time was, wow, thanks to you guys, this narrow biking bridge will be wider and what do you think as all us hoity toity bikers in our fancy bike clothes and helmets looking like aliens from the planet Bikeshop ride across your bridge on our bikes completely ignoring your sign that we walk our bikes while construction is going on. Who do we think we are that we can’t keep a simple rule like that. Do we even see you half a dozen men with your jackhammers and shovels and machines working while we play?

That’s what I was thinking and wondering about and then we had this friendly exchange and I felt human again and got on my bike and rode the remaining five miles of yesterday’s twenty mile ride feeling connected and happy. If I didn’t have those occasional conversations along the way, with construction workers and coffee shop clerks and the handful of friendly bikers who occasionally nod and smile in return to my smile, what, really, would be the point of pedaling? I ask you, what would be the point of pedaling, if not to “make of yourself a light.”

The Buddha’s Last Instruction, a poem by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life,
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

—Mary Oliver from NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, Volume One

I Fell Down on My Bike This Morning

Just as I was coming off the Three Rivers Park Regional Trail and making the turn onto the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway that circles Lake Calhoun, I fell, on the grass. It was a wonderful and amazing fall, one of those moments when the adrenaline kicks in and everything is in slow motion. I could feel myself relax.

Granted, falling from a bicycle is not really some big deal, nothing like raising kids or joining the church choir. I take that back. It is a lot like joining the church choir. I’ll explain myself later. For now, suffice it to say that even though it shouldn’t be a big deal, it’s not something I relish and/or want to do on a regular basis.

It was, however, the absolutely perfect ending of the first act to an already questionable day, questionable as in should I have even bothered to get out of bed this morning, though I had to take my son to Hopkins Main Street School for the Performing Arts at 6:45 AM so had no real choice (about getting out of bed). I did have a choice about getting on a bicycle and given the gray sky and last night’s weather forecast (showers), I did hesitate before I unstrapped my bike from the car. Add to the not-so-perfect weather the fact that my biking partner for the end of July Ragbrai ride across Iowa informed me yesterday that she would only be riding one piece of the trip and you have the recipe for a boomer’s (as in baby boomer) downer day.

Fall down five miles into the ride, curtain comes down. End of Act 1.

Act two? I’m not altogether sure at this point. I am having a difficult time giving up the idea of riding Ragbrai this my sixtieth year on the planet, especially given that I just that the ride will go through Lidderdale, Iowa, the tiny town, population 100, where I and my six siblings lived out the early years of our family life. So many memories. I could switch gears and go for the Minnesota Ride that same week. It’s a much easier ride plus closer to home plus costs less plus I wouldn’t have so much trouble dealing with transportation and it is a charity event, the Minnesota ride, with a good cause, ending multiple sclerosis.

The Iowa ride doesn’t have a charitable cause to promote. I believe it simply promotes biking, not a bad cause, really. What’s a girl to do?

I could force one of my sons to be my Iowa driver (why does that sound so completely unfunny?) I could beg strangers to bike with me. Maybe my husband won’t go to India this summer. Then he’s available.

You see why I fell. I’m confused. I’m uncertain. (Really, it was all those darn pictures of bicycles with lines slashing them in half. Where, exactly, were bicycles allowed to go? Suddenly, I had to stop and think. I’m not good yet at sudden stops in my new, hook-in-to-the-pedal shoes.) I’d throw my arms up in despair but I’m no longer confident of my ability to ride a bike with no hands. I’d like to tie my new dilemma up into a neat package with a silver bow like the one that my husband used for my mother’s day gift on Sunday, but that wouldn’t be honest.

For now, I’ll just hop back on my bike and pedal the remaining ten miles of this days workout, perhaps get a little wet, and hopefully, not fall again. The tulips are still blooming.

Lakeville Ironman, That’s Me!

I might have to ask them to change the name to Ironwoman. Regardless, I did it, my first ever biking event in wind and snow no less. Thirty miles, bumping me up to the next training level for Ragbrai. My knees are a bit sore but not horrible. I’m mostly looking forward to a good night’s sleep (for a change).

I suspect a lot of people didn’t come who had planned on coming. May Day with snow is pretty disheartening, but more reason to get outdoors and show the world that weather doesn’t control your moods or decisions. I mean, isn’t that what it means to be a Minnesota?

Ridiculously Optimistic Old Lady Cyclist

O.k., so I exaggerate a bit. After all, I am only turning sixty. It’s just that I never imagined myself training to bike for a week across the state of Iowa (Ragbrai). I never thought of myself as athletic (that’s still open to discussion). And, most of all, I never thought it would feel sooooo good.

Aging is truly not for sissies and if you’re aging, you know what I mean. The first shocker was menopause, of course. I had no idea I would be so completely wiped out by hotflashes. “Power surges” just did not say it for me, more like God getting even with His mom by torching her hourly. That was followed, of course by body breakdowns including osteo-arthritis. Arthritis! Me! You had to be kidding.

When I finally had to throw in the racket and stop playing “senior tennis” cause my knees were making too much noise, I didn’t know what would come next to keep me happy and alive. I even questioned the point of keeping happy and alive. Fortunately, Minneapolis is number one in the world of cities set up for bikers and the bike trails were calling me, loud and clear. I spent last summer ecstatically pushing through and around hills, parks, lakes, and ponds on my two-wheeler.

Then I turned 59 and with that, realized that 60 would follow. How to celebrate? (Should I celebrate? Why celebrate?) Then this thought, the best of all, celebrate with a challenge to myself and the negative thoughts that insisted that I would be using a cane within two to three years (following knee surgery, I figured). Voila! Ragbrai, the cross Iowa bike ride in July that just happened to be passing through Carroll, the town of my birth, and Iowa City (more specifically, Coralville) the current home of my soon to turn 90 year old mother (her August birthday precedes mine by a month). I named my team “Marvel’s Marvels” after my Mom. (She’s the Marvel. We, her seven children, are simply marvelous because of her).

I have never shirked from my duty to turn social norms on their head when the opportunity arises, and here was another perfect opportunity. However, I have discovered (no surprise) that I am part of a herd of baby boomers committed to active aging, but that’s o.k. I really don’t have to be the first and certainly not the only. I’m not in a race. Not my style. More, I’m in a community celebrating, what else, community. Everyone welcomed!

week one of training for Iowa bike ride

Yahoo. Fifty miles total. Tomorrow I bike twenty miles and then two days of ten and one more day of twenty. Will see how that goes. Turning sixty in September and I figured the July bike ride across Iowa (including Carroll, Iowa, my birthplace) would be an appropriately challenging way to celebrate embarking into a new decade. As my husband commented when he saw me pull up on my steed after today’s ride, “You’ve never done anything like this before.” He’s talking physically, of course. Sixty years of living takes a zillion times more stamina, doesn’t it????

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