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.

An Open Letter

To Whom it may concern,

This is an open letter in regards to the recent hubbub about Miley Cyrus.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell you to calm down. I saw clips of the VMA performance, it was enough to recognize it wasn’t very appropriate for family viewing. This is also not an invitation to start spewing venom about her morals, lack of them or her sudden change in “character.”

First off, Miley, you are welcome to eat dinner or stay in my home any time. Advance notice is preferred so I can clean off the dining table and fix something besides sloppy joes. Unless, of course, you want sloppy joes. I don’t do artisan baked goods, so ordinary buns from Meijer will have to do. I do make a mean salsa, and a pretty good iced tea.

Other than the advanced notice there are a couple of other things – rules, actually – you need to follow. One: no cussing in my house, of any kind – ever. I think it makes people look really, really stupid, and you’re not stupid. Two: if you come to stay you gotta come to to church with us on Sunday. Three: church means appropriate clothes. They don’t have to be fancy, or dressy, or include a hat. They must properly cover the parts Eve was suddenly ashamed to have exposed. Four: no smoking in the house. You can stand outside in the cold, wind, rain or whatever elements nature provides like i make everyone else do. Five: you may not call me by my first name, not even in the genteel way southerners so often do. To you I am Mrs Momma Lady.

Secondly, to all the detractors, haters and judgmental folks out there. To you I say Hush! Just wait a minute. I’ll get back to you later.

Thirdly, back to you Miley. I saw your video Wrecking Ball. Actually it was thrust at me by Sweet Pea. She said ‘I don’t get why people are hating on her so much.’ She went on to say your wardrobe and lack of it isn’t the only thing about the video and song people should notice. Sweet Pea said it was a love song, but a sad one ..and really, really good. I watched it. Later I watched it again; then again. I might even download it (gasp!) just so I don’t have to watch the video over and over.

Fourthly, I get it. I understand the song. I understand the video. I understand the point of the nakedness. I get it! And that’s why I’m writing this open letter. This is where the detractors, haters and judgers can come back in. But you still need to be quiet, so I can explain it to you.

Fifthly, Wrecking Ball, the video, is a metaphor. Listen to the song – listen, don’t watch. Listen to the words and the ache that goes with them. When you hear the story in the lyric you can watch the video again and the metaphor comes screaming through. See the cinder block walls we put up around our hearts, our selves, to keep us in or others out; the sledgehammer to chip away futilely from the entrapment we’ve put ourselves in. The wrecking ball itself destroys the walls we’ve put up because either the other person or relationship is a force beyond our emotional control. The ball has broken through our self-imposed safe zone, leaving it in shattered pieces. The nudity is the vulnerability we experience while in a relationship – we are exposed, fragile. The wrecking ball is the roller coaster or chaos of the emotional journey of falling in love, out of it and staying even though you know it’s a mess.

Like I said, I get it. I hope the rest of you can see past the obvious and see the deeper picture. I hope the song wasn’t autobiographical. Miley, you are too young to experience this sort of relational chaos and heartbreak. My mother’s heart aches at the thought.

Now go find something decent to wear and come for sloppy joes. I might even make pie, or my not-quite-world famous chocolate chip cookies. I’ll even pour you a glass of iced tea.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Note: I don’t like the soft porn aspect of the director’s and editor’s final cut of the video to make Miley appear more sensual in slow motion than actual speed would. Second note: what is with the licking in both recent videos from this new album? And the fixation with your tongue? I don’t get that.

Arts Beats and Eats, a festival

A 4-day festival running Friday through Monday of Labor Day Weekend in downtown Royal Oak, Michigan,  Arts Beats and Eats brings out the crowds– if the weather is nice – but really isn’t all that family friendly, as far as festivals go.

The city has parking arranged all over the place, and it costs $15 per vehicle for lots and ramps nearby and $10 if you park at the high school and take the free shuttle across town. The parking fees help offset the cost of the police and EMS presence the whole weekend. It’s a bit steep, but at least the Royal Oak PD can get paid and not go broke with the overtime. Any on-street meters were reserved for festival use, and unauthorized parking resulted in a $50 parking ticket.  Local neighbors were subject to parking tickets as well, per the festival website FAQ page, but could get the required permit to park — on their own street.

The entire festival area is fenced in.  Admission is charged at the gate and there are 13 of them around the perimeter so you don’t have to wait long to get in, and at $3 a head it’s not that expensive. Admission did change to $5 per person after 5pm. I felt badly for the people who showed up at 5:01 and had to pay the higher price.  Children 3 and under could get in free at any time, and Friday from 11am – 5pm was also free for everyone.

All bags and purses were subject to searching, and by all  I mean even the minimalist  little sling wallets that hold ID, cash, lipstick and a phone. No one and nothing was singled out from what I could see: men, women, teens, diaper bags, backpacks and people of all shades of the ethnic and religious spectrum. (As an aside, I saw a family of Sikh leaving and separately two Jewish families enter — their top-knotted turbans and yarmulkes gave them away. I don’t expect there was much in the line of Kosher or Halal food available.)   Alcohol was sold so the fence kept that contained to the festival. The 2-4 security guards working at each gate made sure your bag was checked, all outside food and beverages stayed outside and your libations stayed inside.

Once inside it started to go downhill.

There were lots of booths for food and drink vendors. The walking space down the middle of the street, Washington, was narrowed considerably by the  booths lined up like row houses on either side of it, which were not booths per se, just generic white or blue e-z up tents. Some of the side streets were only occupied by tents on one side, so they had a bit more room.  The signage for food and drink booths was commercially printed;  none really stood out to grab your attention, and they weren’t numbered or coded so you had no real way of knowing how close you were to the Chicken Shawarma, Mongolian Beef or pizza. None, absolutely none of these took any money from festival goers.  They cost you TICKETS. And this is where the downhill starts sliding fast, and a test drive could come in handy. I’ll get to that later.

Tickets were sold in sheets of 16 for $10 with no refunds and no option to buy fewer than full sheets from what I could see. That comes out to 62.5¢ per ticket.**  One bottle of soda or water was 5 tickets ($3.125), one sandwich — I had shaved prime rib with mushrooms and onions on a Kaiser roll  — was 12 tickets ($7.50). Want an elephant ear? 10 tickets ($6.25); ice cream cones? 5, 7, or 9 tickets ($3.125, $4.375, $5.625); popcorn? lemonade? beer? more tickets. None of the food booths sold beverages, so you had to make a second stop for that. And you had to choose: warm drinks or eat cold food, depending which booth you went to first.There were plenty of drink booths though, maybe one for every three or four food booths, so you didn’t have far to go to find one. Also mind you, one can not spend a few hours walking around in the sun and only have one drink, so you better double or triple up on beverage ticket use.

There was the carnival with rides at both the north and south ends of the festival. A brilliant idea, really. If the kiddos wanted to ride the ferris wheel and the giant slide you had to cross the full length of the festival in order to get to both, passing all the food, drinks and snacks along the way.  The carnival was an added bonus, and added expense for families that bothered to bring their children. All the rides cost tickets, too. Honestly I didn’t even check the cost in tickets for the rides. The last time I was at a fair or carnival most rides and games were 3-5 tickets or $1.875-3.125 each here. I can see why families with kids aged 3-12 didn’t bother to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a good festival.  But let’s add some things up. There are four family members living at home now, so we’ll just use that to help make it easy. None of us would have done any of the carnival rides or games, but for the sake of argument let’s figure on two kids each doing six of the carnival attractions — three rides, three games.

Parking: $15
Admission: $3 ($5*) x4 — $12, ($20) *after 5pm
Food and drink tickets: 16tx for $10 (sold only if full sheets, so you may have leftovers, or Junior goes without his ice cream cone, and who wants to be that parent)
Each “meal” of

  • sandwich (11tx),
  • non-alcoholic drink (2 @ 5tx),
  • snack (popcorn, chips 8tx),
  • sweet treat for dessert (8tx):
  • 37 tickets per person x4 = 148 or 9.25 sheets of tickets

Carnival:

  • 6 activities each
  • x2 kids = 12 @ 3-5 tickets each
  • 36-60 additional tickets. 2.25-3.75 sheets of tickets

Total tickets in whole sheets: 12 or 13 or $120-130

That makes a grand total of  $157-167. Granted some food items were fewer tickets, but alcohol was more than the 5 for sodas or water.  I’m content thinking this is a pretty good average all around.

Arts Beats and Eats had a very commercialized feel to it, in the “let’s see how much we can get away with charging before attendance numbers start to drop off” sort of way. The stages were all sponsored or had ‘naming rights’ from various entities: Ford, Michigan State Lottery and several radio stations to name a few.  The signs and banners didn’t do much to draw your attention because they all looked the same, were the same size, color and design. The names of the eateries providing the food seemed a footnote.  The artists selling their wares did not stand out as they were mixed in between the row houses of food and drink booths in the same generic e-z up tents. I hope the artists didn’t have to pay large sums to be able to exhibit their work.  The whole thing is underwritten by Ford Motor Company. Which is all good and well, since putting on festivals and fairs generally leaves the organizers scrambling to break even months after the tents are stored away until next time. There were various next-model year vehicles parked around the perimeter for festival goers to TEST DRIVE.  As a bonus you would be rewarded with 6 food tickets for taking the time to do so.

Part of the gate admissions does go to charity according to the website, half of the net proceeds after gate expenses are figured. Those, I imagine, are security, paid ticket sales people, fencing, electricity to run lights at the gates, table and chair rental  On a good year about $325,000 is donated to 13 different charities who send volunteers to help work at the entrance gates. That is a lot of money.  It also makes me wonder what happens to the rest since proceeds from the vendors isn’t mentioned.

All in all, I wasn’t very impressed, mostly on account of the overall cost.  We could take our family of four out for dinner to decent restaurants twice for less than this, and still have money left over, or once to a fine dining establishment and come out about even.  It’s funny how we don’t think twice about spending this much at a festival, but balk at dropping that much for one meal. In the end, isn’t it about the same thing? One meal, I mean.   I think I’d rather have my meal served to me in grand style than eat standing up from a paper tray and risk getting beer dumped down my arm or in my shoe.

I guess I’ve been spoiled by the space and affordability of Festival of the Arts in my own hometown.

** I know we don’t have half-pennies in the US anymore, but this is what the math came out to and all calculations reflect the actual cost in dollars and cents for festival fare.