Learn something about yourself: Volunteer

This week a world renown “radically open art competition” opened for its 7th year in my hometown. This isn’t going to be a critique on art, the art on display or the competition. I know what I like, what draws my eye and spurs my senses and invokes a reaction — good and/or bad. I don’t know enough about art to try critique it; but be highly critical, oh yes. This is about something else entirely.

Over the last months and year I have re-learned something about myself: I like to volunteer. I like to be a Volunteer.  ArtPrize needs hundreds of volunteers. This is also the time of year my body decides it wants to start hibernation mode with the shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures. I signed up because I think volunteering is fun (yes, really!) and to force myself to get up, moving and out of the house for something I can’t put off.  I worked three 3-hour shifts this week with several more planned over the next two weeks.

One of the better parts of volunteering for a large-scale event like this is there are many different areas in which to get involved.  This also means it provides a lot of opportunities to people watch, and even talk to some of the people you see.

Yesterday I had the privilege of hosting a drop-in art studio — open to all ages, not just children — in a building which had been a display venue the last six years. This year it, and the most popular outdoor space did not have any art entries — at all. There was a man working as a greeter and disability awareness advocate in the same lobby. During a lull for both of us he wheeled himself over to introduce himself. He was David.  We began talking about ArtPrize, and some of the comments he had been getting from people.  He spoke with much passion about how disappointed he (and many others) were that there wasn’t art in this building, in the outdoor space next door, or in the river — all of which have had something on display all 6 years prior. He was clearly irritated at this oversight, or lack of participation and the disappointment it was creating. And the confusion!  Oh, the confusion!

I don’t recall exactly what I said to him. I did mention I was glad there wasn’t anything outdoors next door as it was one of the only places people would come to see any art and not go explore many other venues at all. I told him I had overheard someone, who I presumed worked in the building, say that a renovation project was planned, and said I guessed the building owners didn’t want to have construction dust and debris become a problem for any of the art or artists. We parted shortly after this brief chat and I didn’t give our conversation another thought.

David came back over to me just before he was set to leave. I thought he was going to say a friendly good-bye and be on his way. He did not.  He apologized. Apologized! I was instantly confused, as he had not offended me, or been impolite or rude in any way.  He wanted be make sure things were “okay between us” before he left. In my stunned disbelief I don’t remember how he put it, but it was to the effect of being sorry about his opinion he expressed earlier.

It wasn’t necessary to apologize for speaking his opinion, and I told him so. Going on, I said that I was not offended in any way.

He has a right to his opinion, and people may not always agree with it, but that’s what makes it an opinion.  I am not easily offended when someone shares their opinion.  What does that say of me, and more importantly, of so many others he has interacted with?

Indeed, what does that say of our society when one man can not safely express his thoughts and feelings without fear of backlash or retaliation? I told David I try to avoid controversial debate, in social media in particular, as it usually devolves into someone calling others names. I’m sorry but you’ve completely invalidated your entire argument as soon as the middle school version of you stepped out and called me Stupid. Actually, I’m not sorry.  If that’s the only and final argument you have to a debate then I know I’ve won.

Carry on, David, with your opinions.  Let’s hope we can relearn civil discourse before it’s too late.

#ThickChicksRunToo

I’ve been a runner for nine years now.  The kind of runner who has to put in work to reach the finish line — a lot of hard work.  Running doesn’t come naturally or easy for me.  I’m not fast.  I run the sort of pace that patronizing elitists and media types call “jogging.”

O, how I hate the word JOGGING! It makes it sound like the person really isn’t trying very hard, or isn’t very committed, or just decided that day to “jog” around their neighborhood to scope out the house that went up for sale. I work hard. I *am* committed.  And if I wanted to check out the houses for sale I will look them up online from the comfort of my couch and laptop, thank-you-very-much.

The next thing I hate is “the look.”  You know which one it is. It’s the one the Sidekick gives the Hero in a movie when said Hero announces he’s going to do something outrageous. It’s the one Dionne gave her boyfriend in Clueless when he doesn’t treat her like he should in front of his friends. You know, that whole-body in-a-single-motion, lean back, drop the chin, look sideways down the shoulder, raise the eyebrows move. For you 80’s kids: Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?

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If I had $1 for every time I saw that face, or heard “Oh, you run?” from, well, anybody, I’d have enough to buy a new pair of running shoes.  These conversations usually starts with polite chit chat with people I interact with but don’t really know: the dental hygienist, bank teller, CNA in the doctor’s office, grocery store cashier. It most often goes something like this:

Them: So, what are your plans for the weekend?, — or — Do you have big plans for the weekend?  (It’s one of the safest things to ask of someone you hardly know.)

My answer usually goes something like this: Not much, I’m training for a race so I have to do a long run on Saturday. And we might _____ later.  (Cue eyebrow raise of curiosity.)

Them: Oh, really. Like a 5k or something? — or — (my favorite) You run? (insert astonished face)

Me: No, not a 5k. — or — Yes, I run. I’m training for a _____  (insert race distance: half marathon, marathon, 25k, triathlon, half ironman) and I have to run _____ miles.

Cha-ching! That’s when I could start collecting the money.

After the umpteenth time this happened I decided to use a hashtag I’d seen on Instagram whenever I posted a running selfie, or finish line picture or anything else to do with training for a race.

Maybe, just maybe the general population will stop being so flipping shocked that someone over a size 12 actually does exercise and can run a long way. Maybe, just maybe if enough Thick Chicks see the hashtag they’ll start using it too, and realize they aren’t alone. I know you know we aren’t.  I see you at the start lines looking all cute in your tutus, skirts, bright shirts, flashy capris or all basic black.  I see you with your compression calf sleeves, arm warmers and kinesio tape.  I see that fuel belt.  I see you’re not a size 4. I see you are ready.  Just.like.me. And I’m pretty sure you have seen me, or someone like me.

So girls, stand up, be proud. Let’s make it a movement, and let the world know: YES, I run!

#ThickChicksRunToo 

MSU Gran Fondo, fun and Cyclist’s Palsy?

The fun .. and what? Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Actually I thought it was muscle fatigue and mild cramping. Until it didn’t go away for a couple of days and then came back after yesterday’s ride.

I rode in my first Gran Fondo yesterday morning. I’ve been training for my third 70.3 triathlon and needed to get a long ride in. My initial plan was to bandit the course and just ride as part of the pack. Then my friend, Tarra, saw my post on Facebook and said I could take her place, who was taking the place of our mutual friend, Melissa, who had broken her foot and couldn’t ride.

This was the MSU Gran Fondo, a fairly new event that serves as a fundraiser for continuing research into melanoma and skin cancer cures and prevention. Being fair skinned and having 7 direct relatives with 5 different kinds of cancer, and knowing someone who was diagnosed with melanoma, I didn’t mind making the minimum fundraising amount as a donation. My Self says “Yeay! A supported ride, marked course, food and beer at the end *and* I can help hammer another nail in Cancer’s coffin.”

Gran Fondo,  2015, in my Skirt Sports bike jersey

Gran Fondo Finisher, 2015, in my Skirt Sports bike jersey

The Fondo was fun, well organized and the Solutions Table had no problem changing the name on the bib. My donation was handled smoothly on site at packet pickup. I was even able to get the swag shirt in my own size without having to wait until after the event. Melissa wears a medium; I do not.

I got a new bike this spring; she’s been christened Fancy. The first couple of rides scared me. At all of 21 pounds with pedals and a full carbon frame I had to relearn how to balance, shift and get into aero position for the first time — ever. There was definitely a learning curve.

Fancy, stock photoI’ve been working on hills. I hate hills. HATE hills. Yesterday was good practice and I felt I did really well. The event itself isn’t a race, though it was timed. I rode it like I would a training ride — pushing myself to build strength, skill, working on shifting for hills, cornering, getting into aero position. I wanted to push my limits and set a goal time to finish of 2:45, with 2:30 being an ecstatic dream. My Garmin was set to Auto Pause and actual ride time was 2:32. Can we say HOLY CATS AND BANANAS, BATMAN! Chip time was 2:44:22. I stopped at the rest spot for water and a potty break. Race day will be different. I finished 38 of 276 women in the 40 mile division, and 171 of 680 overall. I was so excited I could have done cartwheels.

Except there was a problem. I couldn’t use my hands — for anything. I mean in my life depended on my gripping a ledge or falling to my death I would be dead.  I could barely unbuckle my helmet. I asked for help opening a water bottle at the finish party. I could not pinch the zipper pull on my shirt with my fingers. Later in the locker room at the YMCA we’re members of I was desperate enough I almost asked a complete stranger to help with my combination lock. And worst — and most humiliating and desperate — of alI was that I was nearly driven to ask anyone in the locker room for help getting my bra off. I could not do it. I took at least 10 minutes, I swear. It should not take that long, except I couldn’t grab hold of the bottom band to pull it up and over my head. I was wishing for scissors to magically appear in the toilet stall. The bra itself is fantastic. (Mini review: The smaller cup version could use a clasp in the back, and my preference is not black as the only color option. I don’t like have my underthings show through my clothes so black limits which tops I will wear it with.)

I managed to get changed (the reason for the toilet stall — taking care of my humanity, and the bra thing) and sat in the hot tub using the jets as a massage for my aching hands. It helped only a little. I nearly lost a ring as I couldn’t hold it in place, and I could barely grasp it enough to push it back into place. Something was definitely not right.

After I was home I did some internet searching about hand weakness and loss of fine motor function after cycling and found this website, among others. Many repeated the same information: Cyclist or handlebar Palsy. It sounds horrible. And basically it can be if not taken care of.  This site did recommend seeing a qualified doctor about it.  There were a few exercises listed to do for some home PT of sorts. They remind me of the ones my mum had to do after her carpal tunnel surgery.

The best treatment is total rest of the affected area. That’s not an option with a half ironman race in just 8 weeks. The next best ideas were: wear padded gloves, adding extra padding to the handlebars, getting the bike fit checked and adjust if needed and swimming.  I’m calling my shop in the morning to set up a time.

So to celebrate my success we went out to dinner.  I ordered steak. My husband ended up having to cut it up for me. Now that’s love.

Welcome (Back) to the 21st Century Me!

I can’t believe how fast a year can go by but it’s been just over that long since my last post. With every good intention to stay regular with new content it’s hard when the only device you have is a cell phone and a 4+ year-old iPad.

I splurged yesterday and got a new computer. An actual one — with a keyboard. I know, right?! I’ve had it less than 24 hours and I can say I *hate* Windows 8.xx or whatever version it came installed with. Yay for free upgrades in less than a month.

I’ve spent several hours getting used to it, downloading and getting updates, finding all my passwords for websites that my phone saves for me. You know, tedious stuff. Really. Satchel is loving it though. He keeps pawing and mewing and trying to get on my lap. He hasn’t set his sights on the keyboard yet.

I’m also relearning to navigate the many websites I used to frequent and how they have changed so much since I last used a real computer. And what’s with all the pop-up ads?! What happened to pop-up blockers? Do I need to find that in my settings, or browser settings or am I just stuck? I hope “stuck” isn’t the answer, because that would suck. Jus’saying.

One thing I’ve learned in the past few hours: one must keep up with technology or you will get lost.

When life hands you lemons…

The old adage “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” sucks, especially when the lemon squirts you in the eye.

I had a job that I really liked, and was actually pretty good at — until today. “Had” being the optimal word. I got sacked, down-sized, budget-cut, let go.  All lemonade-y words for “fired.” I have to confess I was not perfect and had a couple of polite reminders from my supervisors about protocol, do’s and don’ts but nothing that I would think could put my job in jeopardy and most of us get those when starting something completely new.  The budget for my division has been under strict scrutiny since the end of a campaign in early January which began in early November.  The company devoted thousands of man-hours to this and it will not result in profitable revenue in the end.  As a result all employees’ time sheets were being watched for any overages.  Two weeks ago I put in 30 minutes of extra time, and last week 15 minutes extra wrapping up some details. I got a call today saying with the budget as tight as it is these two events have put me past the “she’s doing okay”  into “Danger!” and that was that.

I could stand and scream about the injustice and unfairness of it all.  But I’m really just too dumbfounded and numb to react; and a little bit mad.  I really loved working with and for this company.  I really was good at what I did.

Part of me wants to curl up in a corner and cry, feeling sorry for my pathetic self and ponder the answer-less question “What’s wrong with me?” The cheerfully optimistic lemonade makers would immediately chime in with nothing. The lemon-in-the-eye squeezers are full of self-doubt and condemnation. I’m waffling somewhere between the two tonight.

My husband suggested I take the time to write the next great American novel. Bless his heart.

Twenty-Two

Twenty-two.

That’s how many years it’s been. That’s how many there are.

Twenty …two.

22

That’s how old he’ll be.

Christmas always makes me wistful for the past, nostalgic even — for the days of sweet little voices clamoring to put the first ornament on the tree and arguing over who gets to put the star on top.  Some ornaments in particular are what have me a bit melancholy this year as well. You see Sonny Boy got engaged this past August. His Girl is a sweet girl (woman, really — but they’re young, and I digress…) whom we adore and look forward to embracing into the family August next at their wedding.

Twenty-two years are the number of Christmases I’ve had with him. Twenty-two ornaments received as gifts from his grandparents over the years.   The first few were candy caned numbers with cute little animals clinging to them to mark how many Christmases he’s celebrated 1 ..2 ..3 ..4 ..5.

As he grew the ornaments changed as his interests changed: assorted baseball themes, a pet turtle, cars and driving.  I’ve saved every box they came in; wrote on the bottom each year it was given.   Each year he would dig his out of the Rubbermaid storage tub, unwrap them from tissue or bubble wrap and hang them all in a line across/around the tree.  The empty boxes would get passed off to us and we’d stuff the tissue or half-popped bubble wrap back inside and stack the empty little boxes back into the Rubbermaid tub. There was always so much laughter! and stories of “do you remember this one?” — even during the tense mid-teen years. There would always be a fire in the grate, and hot chocolate, made-from-scratch in recent years, with lots of whipped cream.

We put the tree up a few days ago.  It wasn’t the same, and my Mother’s Heart was feeling a little empty. Two of the three kids have moved out (and amazingly back in with each other, but that’s another story) so it was just Sugar Bug, the Husband and me. Sugar Bug spent most of her time taking Snapchats and wrapping herself in the red string beads instead of the tree, entertaining herself while we hung ornaments.  There was still laughter, but not as much nor as loud. There was still homemade hot chocolate, just a smaller pot.  The whipped cream was overflowing!  My heart realized that Christmas in Our Home will never be the sort that all these memories have been made of. My head has known this day would come but it was always “some day” and seemed so far off in the future.

I’m trying to not let the longing for nostalgia and the memories overwhelm the joy that we will be celebrating this Christmas season.  I’m trying really, really hard.  I catch myself staring into …nothing… and realize my thoughts have drifted and my eyes have wandered over to our semi-barren Christmas tree, where twenty-two additional ornaments used to hang.  These same little boxes in their own little tub waiting to go to their new home.

Twenty-two.

That’s how old I was when I had him.  That’s how old Sonny Boy will be when he takes His Girl as his wife.

And they will start collecting special ornaments with special memories of their life together for their own Christmas tree.

And suddenly this Mother’s eyes are puddling up. Not with the longing for the past, but with the anticipation of the future.

 

Thanksgiving deception and surprises

I found out, today, my older sister and three of her four kids have packed up what they can fit into a one-way rental car and moved to Fresno — today. It seems this has been arranged for a little while and yet certain persons were forbidden to mention this at Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not quite sure what to make of this yet: the secrecy, forbidding revelations, what will happen with the youngest two who are still in high school. This will be their fourth school and fourth move in four years.

Too much to absorb to fully process this right now. ((sigh))

That is all, and enough.