Saturday, October 11, 2008

BIC ride

Today I rode with some friends as part of a Bicyclists of Iowa City ride.

One of my newest friends, Jim -- who, for lack of a better word, I call my boyfriend -- is a new bicyclist and an Iowa Citian... So I hope he might join the BIC club. It's rewarding that he has taken up bicycling as a way to spend more time with me. But what I like more is the idea that he might like biking enough to continue regardless of what the future holds for our relationship.

So we rode from Jim's place in Iowa City to Scott Park and met up with Margo, a longtime friend and fellow cyclist, and some other BIC members. The planned ride was from the east edge of Iowa City to West Branch along the Herbert Hoover Highway then to a teeny-tiny burg called Downey. And surprisingly, it's not as fresh and fluffy as you might think. And another surprise, Tide and Snuggle are not nearby towns. Odd, right?

Anyway, it's been a while. Thought I'd make an appearance.

Keep watching. Something interesting might happen!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Announcing...

OK, if you know me outside the virtual world, in what we old-timers like to call the real world, then you've heard me brag about the fantastic compliments from my teammates. Well, I think I already bragged about it in the virtual world too.

I think I've said this before too... it's my blog, I can write what I want.

So anyway, one of my super cool teammates, Rob, (don't read me wrong, they're all fantabulous rock stars!)... anyway, Rob, has loaned me his precious Penn State baseball cap. It's to be my daily reminder that one of my top goals right now is to purchase a road bike. Believe me, I don't need a daily reminder, but I certainly enjoy it.


Over to the right... that's Rob and me at the end of RAGBRAI 08 getting our picture taken in front of the Mighty Mississippi, with me wearing the PSU road bike hat.

See that nice hybrid bike that has taken me across the state and more in the last 4 years? It is named Shadowfax. Instead of being redundant again, I'll just point out that the explanation for this bike's name is in a prior post. So let's move on to the main point here... I name my vehicles.

The bike pictured... Shadowfax, so that I could imagine that I'm fast. And we know now how that turned out!!

My car is named Bindi. It's a forest green Subaru Forester with an alligator hanging from the rear view mirror. Not a real one... a ceramic one! If you can't put those that all together, no worries mate! Catch a few key episodes of the Crocodile Hunter, know that I worked as a canoe instructor in Florida briefly... now do the math. Still can't get it? Then you're hopelessly out of the pop culture loop (or at least one that involves the Discovery Channel!) and I can't help you.

Let's not get into the whole history of my vehicle names or the reasoning behind it. It doesn't matter, what matters is that even though I haven't settled on a particular bike, no particular brand. Nothing is yet settled but this one crucial tidbit. I now know the name of my yet to be purchased road bike.

Now, once I reveal the name of the bike, some might accuse me of pandering to my Pennsylvania friends without any thought. Not true. First, the name... drum roll please! My new bike will be dubbed Nittany.

And for the more judgmental in the crowd here's the rationale this time... Nittany is not simply because the hat is a Penn State hat and that is their mascot. There's more to it.

Apparently Nittany derives from a Native American word that means "single mountain." Mount Nittany serves as a Penn State backdrop. I can't say whether I've seen this mountain or not. I have been to PA. But that was a long time ago, back when I was a silly teenager more interested in taking pictures of Porsche's out the window of the tour bus hauling me and the other silly teenagers around on our high school choir trip than in knowing about the geological formations also lurking outside the tour bus.

Anyway, back to Nittany, which not only is it my future bike, it is a mountain which is a symbol of something for a cyclist to conquer. On top of that, one possible meaning of the Native American word is "barrier against the wind." While the good folks who compile the facts at Wikipedia claim that this definition is not likely to be accurate, I don't care. I like the idea of my bike protecting me from the wind.

So there you go. Pandering or not, the new bike will be christened Nittany... now on to the other minor details, saving the dough, doing the research, testing out the choices, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

YAY!

Oh, and stay tuned for the adventures of Linda and the Road Bike Hat!

Monday, August 4, 2008

It's about time...

Well... now that it's a little over a week post-RAGBRAI, I can't really use that event as an excuse anymore for not writing. I have new ones, but I won't put them to use. Yet!

RAGBRAI, the incredible adventure it was lingers with me in the form of sleepiness that lasted pretty much until Sunday... 8 days later, not the Sunday after RAGBRAI! And also in the form of missing my teammates. What a group of fantastic people. I'd mention a few by name, but for now, suffice to say that there are some wonderful men and women out there who make up Team LIVESTRONG. And the word love doesn't encompass all that I feel for them.

Here are some examples...

Once again this year one of our teammates (permission to use his name pending!) rode RAGBRAI with us while going through chemo. His goal was to do about 20 miles a day... a few days during the week. He ended up far exceeding his mileage goals, in fact riding on one of the toughest days of the week, Wednesday, which was a nearly 80-mile day with heavy duty headwinds all the way. In fact, our resident aerodynamics guru and bus-provider Steve Hed said that riding that day was akin to riding a century. So top that off with a chemotherapy chaser! I tell you, I couldn't be more proud of anyone than I was of our cancer-fighting teammate!

I wear ribbons on my jersey each day of RAGBRAI in honor of or in memory of people who have had cancer. Prior to the ride and during the week I try to collect one name for every mile we ride. My goal this year... 472 names and so 472 ribbons. I admitted to the team on the last night of RAGBRAI that there's a little part of me that feels a bit selfish about it, because it makes me more visible to the rest of the team, so that when others Team LIVESTRONG members pass by me in town or on the road, they yell out my name, making me feel like a rock star. Which in turn makes me admire them equally for being so caring, friendly and supportive, knowing that we all have some rock solid common goals... ride our bikes across the state of Iowa in one week and kick cancer's ass in our lifetime. What's not to admire?

Many of those wonderful teammates helped me achieve my goal of 472 ribbons/472 names by adding their loved ones to the list. And when I shared with the team my goal and my enjoyment with their "Linda, Linda, Linda" cheering... there was something I failed to mention. Between RAGBRAI 07 and RAGBRAI 08 a large number of major changes have occurred in my life and in the lives of my family; many not so good... some quite possibly within my control to prevent, others not at all, some long-expected, some sudden events and some of them directly related to cancer. Let me put it this way, when you take an online stress quiz, the top 10 list sounds like my last year and a half. No wait... let me put it this way... if my life was a cheesy country song, people would be sobbing in their beers and patting each other on the shoulders.

But I'm not complaining. Somehow despite everything, in 2007 I could still say what I say pretty much every year of my life, "this was the best year of my life!"

As soon as I joined Team LIVESTRONG in 2007 I could feel my life changing. Not in obvious surface ways... I still have the same car, the same house and for a while had the same job. It was more of a fundamental shift. Opening myself to new feelings, new friends, new perspectives. Believing in things I didn't realize I had stopped believing. Being bolder, more authentic.

And somehow all this came from joining a team of strangers (we weren't strangers for very long!), riding together across Iowa during the infamous ride fondly known as a Spring Break/Summer Camp for the 40-something (plus?) crowd. Just like life though, RAGBRAI is what you make of it. It may be a moving party of bikes and beer, but you can get so much more out of it.

I think I lost my point a while back. Regardless... I'm back in the saddle (writing... not riding!) with some stories to tell. Happy Trails!

Peace & Love to all my Super Friends!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Heaven and hell

Out riding my bike along a new, less familiar route than my usual cycling haunts I pondered one of my recurring thoughts about Iowa in general.

While I hate to compare the beauty of a particular area of Iowa to say that one is more picturesque than another, there are some of the hillier areas that will give you a broader view of the landscape. And for some reason or other, human nature causes us to be more impressed by the sweeping vistas than of the smaller-scale pastoral views right in front of us.

It takes a concentrated effort, although not a tremendous amount of strength to see the beauty in the everyday... if only because it becomes a background to our daily scurrying about our very important business. And too often our daily business or busy-ness becomes an exercise in passing by unsmelled roses. Because I see my usual bike route more often than others, it can sometimes seem boring or uninteresting. But if I pretend to be new to the area and unfamiliar with the rolling to flat hills, straight country roads, weathered barns, fields of who-knows-what-yet... corn, beans, alfalfa... I can see the plainness exude a mercurial beauty unlike the scenery presented by a mountain view or an ocean-scape.

Iowa's beauty, hidden in that plainness suprises me each time seasons change. And sometimes again in between when the shadow of a cloud on a bright day reveals the shape of a hillside or a turn around a bend reveals a road curving around the next hill as if caressing the land.

And so it was as I biked my way along some new-to-me county roads a couple of weeks ago exploring my newly assigned territory of scenic byways. Pedaling along at an easy pace, I lallygagged and pondered up a hill... into the wind.

Out of nowhere Cujo began chasing me up that hill! This giant beast had a head the size of a horse... or at least a horse's head... and jaws large enough to crack my skull like a walnut... including the helmet. With no time to wonder if I had it in me to outrun the lathered hound, UPHILL, INTO THE WIND, I kicked into high gear.

Pedaling my heart out, I checked once: the creature was breathing fire onto my rear tire.

Kicking it up another notch, I spun for my life.

Adrenalin and knees pumping, I checked again: still the hell-hound held my pace.

Sure my heart would burst, I pedaled harder.

Checking one last time before I died in the slobbering jowls I glimpsed the monster far enough behind me that I could relent a little.

At the top of the hill I turned back one last time and saw a fiery hole close around the great fiend as he disappeared from whence he came.

A mile or so and a couple of big hills further down the road the adrenalin finally wore off and I began to shake. Soon I nearly forgot my brush with death.

But other than my accidental discovery of the beast guarding the gates of hell, it was a beautiful bike ride in the heavenly scenic hills of Iowa.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Absentee juggling act

It has been a while and my sole lame excuse is that I've been busy figuring out how to balance two new jobs with my former established routine. But that's the last complaint you're going to hear about my new job for a while. The one job is soon to be come a former job as I just couldn't deal with having my weekends filled with working and tornado watches and warnings, leaving no time for RAGBRAI training... so now I'm down to the one new job that I love.

What is it?

Well, I'm now working as a Scenic Byway Project Coordinator for a couple of neat little routes not far from my home, namely the Grant Wood Scenic Byway and the Delaware Crossing Scenic Byway. So far I've been exploring the byways and "identifying key stakeholders." That's my new favorite phrase for going out and talking to people about their towns and what their dreams are for the community.

A while ago I published my personal mission -- and in the process of one of my numerous blog makeovers, I have since deleted it, so here it is again:
With focused determination, unbridled curiosity and decided happiness I embrace activities that fuel my passion to inspire, support anad encourage collaboration, openness, active & creative thought, laughter and connectedness, leading me to achieve extraordinary goals and to help others achieve the same.
I point this out because the place I work now has the following mission:
The Mission of the Limestone Bluffs RC&D is to serve as a catalyst by uniquely assisting people, communities, and businesses to enhance the value of existing and future resources.
Could we be more perfectly matched? Like tunes in an iPod, methinks!

Check out my byway... see the unofficial bird of Iowa.
It's a dream come true... and I didn't even know it was my dream!

Monday, May 19, 2008

What's your favorite spring vegetable?

Rhubarb. Tart and fresh. It brings with it the promise of spring. The taste of raw rhubarb captures the smell of new-mown lawns and fragrant garden flowers. Most recipes containing this amazing vegetable fall into the dessert category. But with a little exploration and adventurous culinary spirit, one can find recipes for rhubarb salads and rhubarb/meat combinations.

If, like my southern friend Jenn a.k.a. Jenn-zing, you've never tried rhubarb, you might find it easier to venture into the salad/entree world of rhubarb. For we northerners, where rhubarb flourishes, a mindset tends to develop so that when we think of rhubarb, we conjure images of pies, cobblers, and crisps filled with intoxicating pink tart sweetness. It's hard to let go of something so delicious to think that it could be served as a complement in a savory dish.

On Mother's Day my brother and I planted some flowers for Mom. That's when I discovered that she still has rhubarb growing in the back yard. Until then I had been coveting the neglected rhubarb patch beside my neighbor's garage. I've seen it go to seed most of the recent summers and wondered if anyone would notice if I sneaked out in the middle of the night to pull up some stalks. The Mother's Day revelation alleviated my evil plotting but began a short-term obsession with the plant.

In salads and entrees that include rhubarb as a major ingredient, it is usually cooked into a sauce or chopped into a salsa and so becomes dressing or garnish. Regardless, something has to be done to address the tough skin of the rhubarb stalks. A few days after Mother's Day we celebrated Mom's birthday, I planned to cook dinner for everyone and as an added gift, I thought I'd see if the Birthday Girl was feeling adventurous and suggested some salad and entree recipes using rhubarb. She didn't bite.


Whether you've chosen the traditional or the adventurous route, there are a couple of tips to gathering and preparing your harvest before bringing it inside. First, pull the rhubarb, don't cut it. Next, an important step in preparing your rhubarb is to get rid of the leaves as they contain oxalic acid, which is toxic, so you have no use for them. To streamline cleanup a little just chop off the tops before you go into the house. The leaves can be composted if you wish.
The stalks of the rhubarb have a tough skin, so your recipe may call for peeling or cooking the rhubarb. The skin makes the plant a challenge to chop, and so you may not believe that cooking will soften it enough. Surprisingly, it does.

So for Mom's birthday I made a rhubarb dessert. A recipe I found at allrecipes.com. And what a find. It's called Rhubarb Dream Bars. Nice shortbread crust, eye-watering tart rhubarb filling with coconut and walnuts. Mom delivered another batch to some friends the following day. All of them claimed to HATE at least two of the filling ingredients... and all of them had second helpings of the dream bars. So much for hate!

We'll keep doing what we have to to spread the love a.k.a. rhubarb.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kentucky Bluegrass Smoothie

Here's the recipe...

Wait two to four days past prime time for the first lawn-mowing of the spring.
Mow.
Mow over the mounds of grass that didn't get mulched by your mulching mower.
Repeat.

And then you, too, can have a Kentucky Bluegrass Smoothie!

My lawn is always a little lumpy because of the uneven ground, but it's extra lumpy tonight because of my newly created recipe. The neighbors were out with their riding mower while I was out making beverages for my yard. His riding mower mulches much better than mine and so he took it upon himself to mow over some of the mounds on one side and the back of my yard. In appreciation for the neighborliness, I've got a "Thank you very mulch" card ready to deliver first thing tomorrow.

Sure the homemade card is a little cheesy, but from my extensive experience in the greeting card business (which pretty much consists of mind-numbing browsing sessions at the nearest Hallmark Gold Crown Store) I'm certain that you can get away with a good serving of cheese when it comes to Thank You cards.

Now I feel like I should apologize for the pointlessness of this post!
Nope... I'm over it. Enjoy!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Top 10 Cancer fighting actions

Well, I admit, I've been up on a soapbox lately. It's easy to justify though. For one, this is a blog, not a forum with rules about proselytizing.

And another thing...Cancer affects everyone.

It enters the bodies and lives of people we love, people we work with, play with and pray with, and sometimes it is you.

No matter who it is in your life who has been affected by cancer, you likely have felt the desire to do more. If you're at a loss for what to do or say, please keep reading. You'll find all kinds of ways to do more. Pick a couple!


I'm doing a few things myself -- one of which is riding RAGBRAI this summer as a member of Team LIVESTRONG. This will be my second year on that team and I could not have stumbled upon a greater combination of passions... biking, contributing to society and having fun while doing it!


  1. Donate. This is the easiest one!
  2. Donate online. Maybe this is the easiest one!! Not only that, it saves the environment -- no paper, no fossil-fuel-powered vehicles to deliver the dough... (check out the link at the bottom of this message.)
  3. Refer a cancer survivor* to the LIVESTRONG SurvivorCare program. Call 866.467.7205 or go online to get one-on-one support for any cancer-related question. Counseling, financial or insurance questions, finding a clinical trial, etc.*(as defined by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a person becomes a cancer survivor from the moment they are diagnosed. LAF also includes the loved ones in that definition.)
  4. Order a LIVESTRONG Survivor notebook. Either give me a shout or go online. The notebooks are free. If you order online, you will have to pay shipping and handling. If you live in Eastern Iowa, then contact me and it's totally free.
  5. Ride RAGBRAI as part of Team LIVESTRONG. Registration is closed this year, but keep it in mind for 2009!
  6. Volunteer. LIVESTRONG Army leaders all over are looking for volunteers. So are other organizations like the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Gilda's Clubs, etc. Do what you're good at!
  7. Celebrate LIVESTRONG day! Bare minimum: Wear Yellow on May 13th, LIVESTRONG Day. See me if you need a wristband! Do a little more: find an event near you... click on the "Events search" link.
  8. LIVESTRONG Summit -- apply for the summit. The only requirement is that you have a desire to do something about cancer, whether advocacy or support.
  9. Go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation website and see for yourself all the programs and services offered by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The "State Profiles" page hosts a directory of documents for each state showing what LAF has done where we all live.
  10. Find a cancer organization that is meaningful to you and offer what you have... donations, time, etc. and give. I hope you will choose LAF but want you to give where it means the most to you.
LIVESTRONG!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Enlisting -- blog lists

Stumble Upon... The website... have you heard of it?

It can be quite fun if you're looking for a little diversion. While (thankfully!) it hasn't proven endlessly fascinating, it does turn up some useful information.

For Stumble of the day I pick "The Million Blog List" an experiment to see how long it takes to get one million blogs added to the list. It just started early this month (April) and it already has over 1100 listed. It's a wiki, so you can add your own blog just by signing up (or not, but then your IP address is listed as the editing party).

That led me to another site, the "Wiki Blog Directory" a convenient self-explanatory title. Here you can list your blog for free under as many categories as apply. Of course keep in mind that since it is a wiki, if you list your blog under a subject that doesn't fit, it will probably be edited out, so be judicious in your selections!

Cheers and happy listing!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

De-clutter your calendar!

In the long list of days celebrating awareness of things like our love for grandparents, what milk will do for a body, and whatever vegetable has gone too long under-appreciated, some special days get lost in the clutter. If you're feeling the need for a Spring Cleaning and want to de-clutter your calendar, let me give you some help.
  1. Your calendar has enough to do. Get rid of all the days celebrating the various foods. You've got cupboards, a refrigerator.... If you've forgotten to celebrate something like milk and Pepsi or peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, just open a door in the kitchen.
  2. Keep Earth Day on the calendar (by the way, that was TODAY!). Anyway, it seems like a keeper in our recent greening of things.
  3. Keep Mother's Day. Who could live with the guilt if we didn't?
  4. Grandparent's day... Well, that's up to you. If you send greetings on Mother's Day and Father's Day, then really, what's the big whoop if you delete this one? I've heard of a greeting card mafia, but don't really think this will put me on their list.
  5. ADD LIVESTRONG Day. This newest celebration day carries more meaning than some of the ones you just deleted from your calendar (if you're following my recommendations). LIVESTRONG Day is about celebrating cancer survivorship -- which means supporting 10+ million Americans who are "living with, through and beyond cancer" along millions of others around the world.
You might be thinking, "what can I do?" I don't have time... well, there are many choices with time commitments ranging from none to four hours whichever is your preference.
  • In the category of NO EXTRA TIME WHATSOEVER:
    • Wear Yellow on May 13, 2008.
    • Wear a LIVESTRONG Wristband (Get in touch with me and I will get you one, or go to the LIVESTRONG Store and order some if you'd like a bunch.)
  • In the category of JUST A MINUTE OR TWO:
  • In the category of I WANT TO DO MORE!
    • For everyone in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area, come to Dick's Sporting Goods store on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 and meet some members of the 2008 RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG as we ride our bikes (on trainers) in front of the store, advocating for cancer issues and raising funds to benefit LIVESTRONG. There will be door prizes, including a $25 Dick's Sporting Goods gift certificate.
    • Check out the ways that the Lance Armstrong Foundation has made an impact in your state.
    • Also for those nearby, if you want to volunteer, let me know in advance and I'll sign you up for a volunteer slot riding or manning the information table (or both!)
    • Look for a LIVESTRONG Day event in your area!
    • Better yet, donate to LIVESTRONG!
See you around! LIVESTRONG!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Appreciation

Harvesting my old journals for nuggets of my youthful wisdom (is that an oxymoron?) I stumbled upon something that I have trouble believing came from my own pen. But it did. It's my handwriting, my experience, my appreciation. But so far removed from it I feel like sharing it the way a parent shares a child's watercolor painting, posting it on the refrigerator until it is no longer recognizable. I figured I'd find bits and pieces that I'd have to flesh out into something good... but this piece seems like something to share in it's entirety.

So this blog post serves as my refrigerator for my former youthful self.

More context...

Sixteen years ago Florida briefly served as home for me as I led Elderhostlers on canoe trips on the Wekiwa River and Rock Springs Run. One of the weeks when we weren't conducting Elderhostel courses, a group of fraternity boys from South Carolina visited as part of a project called P.U.S.H. I don't recall the words that go along with the acronym, but the point was to spend spring break in Florida doing service projects rather than partying and puking off balconies. This group of young men chose Camp Thunderbird which in the winter hosted the Elderhostel program. But in "real life" it is a camp for physically and mentally disabled people. So their projects were to improve some different areas of the camp, installing fixtures, building things, etc. In the meantime, they also had the opportunity to meet some of the clients who would benefit from their efforts. Alvin, a young man with Downs Syndrome was a frequent visitor at Camp Thunderbird who became quite attached to the frat boys.

Anyway, what follows is my thank you letter to the group in care of their leader.
March 8, 1992

Dear Mike R. (P.U.S.H. coordinator),

Today I was down at the observation deck (thank you all for that)... and I observed quite a few new things. There was a tiny translucent green spider spreading a web across one of the railings directly in front of me. If I looked carefully enough I could see a little black eye moving around looking (apparently) at me. Then out on the lake an alligator swam past. Meanwhile the frogs grew silent. When the gator passed they slowly resumed. The ripples quieted and the surface of the lake slowly returned to the intense blue reflection of the sky. And I saw, or rather observed something I hadn't noticed before... I could love the beauty of this place.

Now what difference does this make to you? Well, without your group I wouldn't have seen this. And how can I claim that the natural wonder in Florida wouldn't have become apparent without P.U.S.H.? That's why I'm writing. I think you should know what good you do beyond the physical building you do.

I'm sure you remember Alvin. Well, he's been looking for "the guys" since you left. He pops in in different places hoping to see you and says, "Oh, just you," when he discovers it's only George, Roger, Eric or me. For all the hoping and emptiness, he loves you all and he'll remember you until the day he dies.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself well. What I want you to know is that (at the risk of sounding romantic) you built more than just an observation deck, benches and a linen closet. You did more than just paint some buildings and everything else. You also built a grand memory for those clients fortunate enough to meet and make friends with you.

As far as personal appreciation, it too your enthusiasm and energy to open my eyes to the true beauty of this little place in central Florida. I understood what is attractive here: the water, the lilies, the palmetto, the raccoons, limpkins, alligators, herons, orange trees, etc. And I learned as much as I could about the flora and fauna of the area, but the attention you paid to everyone and the interest you all had in the disabled stirred some familiar feelings in me. The reasons to love a place aren't solely in the geography or even in the people. It's largely in the things that happen while you're there. Your being here was the extraordinary experience that will always keep a soft spot in my heart for central Florida -- more specifically Camp Thunderbird.

Meeting other people who enjoy and respect disabled people is continually the joy that makes my life real. It's a gift I believe we all have, we just have to be willing to be in touch with that ability.

Anyway Mike, I would appreciate your letting everyone know just how much I appreciated their being here. Our paths may never cross again, but I will always remember having met you.

Thanks,

Linda

P.U.S.H. "guys" pictured below. Photo on the right is their leader, Mike.
(By the way, I just noticed this, but doesn't the guy in the foreground of the group shot look like Matt Damon... just a little?)




Sunday, April 6, 2008

Maggie The Pie-Dog -- how many second chances?

I'm a big fan of second chances. I came by some of the best things due to second chances... some of my best friends, my passion for biking, heck, my whole life is based on one giant second chance, but that's another story -- this story is about the second chance that was my Maggie-pie.

Maggie, my late golden retriever mix, a.k.a. "The Sweetest Dog in the Land" maintained a good reputation as mischief-maker during her 12 years with me, not to mention her first year of life before our paths crossed.

The family who had placed the ad in the paper looking for a new home for Maggie had struggled with their decision. Happy-go-lucky, typically golden, Maggie had a hard time spending her days in the tiny bathroom of their rented duplex where they moved from a farm following the parents' divorce. Unfortunately, when mom, the kids and Maggie moved to the duplex, Maggie could not be trusted home alone. I don't blame her... she was only a year old and had lots of energy and joy to share and she was having to spend a lot of it indoors in the only room in the house she couldn't destroy. Her first family asked for a better life for her and I had promised to give Maggie a second life with me at camp, where she could spend her energy outdoors running around with me. Responding to the classified ad one rainy summer night I went to meet Maggie. She greeted me as if we were already best friends. I wasn't sure I wanted a dog of my own until that moment. Her welcoming greeting sealed the deal. I became her second chance.

Her first five minutes in my house, a basement apartment at Camp Courageous during my tenure as Respite Care and Volunteer Coordinator, involved her hurriedly inspecting the entire place. A venture taking all of 10 seconds as the place consisted of four rooms including the bathroom. Following her inspection of the place, she picked up the bowl of water I had filled for her and she flung it across the room, bathing most of two rooms with the contents. She followed that up by running down the hall and taking a gigantic dump.

Every day for the first week she would manage to run away from me, chew some furniture or books or shoes. Basically frustrating me to the edge of my breaking point. During so many years at Camp Courageous (a year round camp for physically and mentally disabled children and adults) as Counselor, Activity Specialist and then Respite Care and Volunteer Coordinator I learned many behavior management techniques, which have more to do with your own patience, creativity and ability to dig deeper into both wells as they get tested to breaking points sometimes on a weekly basis, sometimes hourly and even other times on a minute-to-minute basis. Now, I'm not saying this to compare campers to dogs. No way. It's just to say that my frustration threshold is (or maybe "was") pretty high due to the regular pushing of limits by circumstances, behaviors and regular lack of sleep. So, the idea of a good natured happy dog like Maggie pushing me to the edges of it, now seems amusing.

At the time though, surrounded by chewed furniture, books, shoes, and Pepsi bottles, with a sore throat from yelling for Maggie each time she ran off I neared tears from my internal struggle between desire to be a responsible adult and desire for a peaceful home life with whole furniture and shoes. But I couldn't go back on my promise. Besides, what kind of lessons do you learn from having hole-less shoes, books free of bite marks? The struggles enrich life, right? So, I figured what the heck -- I can definitely become a slightly better person at the very least. And then what about that initial greeting... how could I forget that in my decision-making? I went with the responsible adult choice and kept my promise to the Magpie's first family.

A week or so after deciding to give it another go, Maggie and I had started to understand each other better. Don't get me wrong, she still frustrated the hell out of me for a while and never really lost that naughty streak -- as many upcoming stories will reveal. We found things that were OK for her to chew on. I found things at the pet store, the usuals, you know, bones, rawhide chews, cow hooves, etc; she found them in the woods. Are there "usuals" in this category? Maggie's self-selected chew toys included some wild pumpkins she found growing in the woods, sticks, logs... yes, firewood sized hunks of wood. For a long time she had a flat football that she took with her wherever we went. Something like Linus and his blanket. The "running off" issue took a little more training on both our parts but eventually Maggie and I could go places together without a leash.

For some reason, Maggie christened every house that she and I moved into in the same manner of that first dump in the hallway. I never figured that one out. She always seemed embarrassed afterward. Maybe she couldn't contain her nervous excitement. I don't know. It's easy to remember the incidents, accidents and misdeeds with specific stories and details. But the conglomerated memories of the daily unadulterated delight upon my return home, and the rituals of feeding, play and grooming, and just the un-conflicted companionship balance the rest and turn them into funny stories.

Either way, Maggie reinforced one of my favorite life lessons. Now and forever -- big fan of second chances.

Jack's LIVESTRONG Video

Jack is the son of my friends and teammates Jen and Marty Hoeger.
He has a compelling message.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Half-Marathon in Austin

Click here to see photos of me nearing the finish line February 17, 2008 in Austin, Texas during my first half-marathon.

Action Sports International - www.asiorders.com

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring has spung... or has it?

Last Thursday (March 20) I took Shadowfax (that's my bike) out for my first outdoor ride of 2008.

First things, first, yes, I named my bicycle. All my vehicles have names... no particular reason, other than for fun. If the name of my bicycle sounds familiar to you then you will have one of two assumptions as to it's origin. My bike's namesake character in J.R.R. Tolkien's book The Lord of the Rings. Because Tolkien's Shadowfax is a fearless gray-silver stallion that is the fastest of all horses in Middle-earth. My bike is gray-silver and I like to imagine that I'm fast... although it is a hybrid, so there are few races I'll be winning on MY Shadowfax. I guess there's a world-fusion band out in the world with the same name, but other than my scant knowledge of the band's existence via questions from others, my Shadowfax has no connection to the musical world's Shadowfax.

Second, yes, I've been a wuss about this winter in Iowa. It hasn't consisted so much of complaining. A complaint is a legitimate beef about a circumstance like a fly in your soup. You politely pass on the information to your waiter because you expect something to be done about it to change (hopefully by improvement) the situation. So I call what I've been doing most of this winter in regards to the snow, ice and sub-zero temps whining. Because really, I live in Iowa. If there's anyone I should be complaining to, it's myself. No one is forcing me to live where it gets cold and snowy in the wintertime. So, note to myself... if you have a legitimate beef here, then get off your duff and do something about it or quit your whining. (Note to everyone else, I'm working on a little bit of both!)

But here's the most important part -- SPRING is officially here, even though it appears that Mother Nature and the calendar are still negotiating the details. Despite their harshness, ice, snow and cold, give the world a briefly magical appearance. Everything is covered in white. Then comes spring. Salt and sand, dead leaves, brown hibernating grass and all sorts of litter and critters lost in the strata of all the storms begin to reveal themselves as the frozen layers begin to melt. Despite this supposed ugliness exposing itself, my happiness about spring grows exponentially as more and more road grit sinks into my lawn.

Spring is a funny season, the "middle child" of the seasons, trying to include everyone, sharing some of the characteristics of each of it's siblings in an effort to help everyone get along. Spring is mud and snow duking it out to see which one is better friends with the longer days. Spring colludes with Winter on a practical joke like snow in April (or even May), especially snow on Easter. They sit back, Spring and Winter, watching to see who will laugh.

Spring becomes visible to me prior to the grass waking up and remembering it's usual hue. In winter, trees branches shrink to sharp points, scratching and poking the sky; pins and needles ready to prick snow clouds that come too close. If you're alert when winter starts to pack it's bags, and spring is still just teasing about coming for a visit, you can see the branches plump. The sap begins to flow from somewhere deep inside each tree stretching to the extremities and as they fill, the tips begin to pulsate with life. When that happens, the spring birds can't be too far behind. Soon there will be buds bursting from those pulsating tips, bursting up through the soil from long frozen bulbs. By then many of us will have nearly forgotten our own whining about the snow and ice.

Even though there is still some snow holding out against the lengthened days (as negotiated by the Solstice) I have no legitimate beefs about the weather. I see plump twigs on the trees outside my windows. Shadowfax and I will be out again today.

Winter from my kitchen. Spring from my kitchen.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 10, 2008

Saturday, March 8, 2008

My Mission Statement

Last week I formalized my personal mission.

I believe that a personal mission should be broad enough to encompass one's professional life as well as one's personal life.

Further, I believe that putting your life's purpose into words presents a challenge if only because words sometimes fail to capture the spirit of a thought or intention. I don't have my copy anymore, so I can't accurately quote him, but in his novella "The Body" (in the book Different Seasons) Stephen King wrote a phrase that has stuck with me since I read it the first time back in the late 80s'. He wrote that "speech destroys the functions of love" and Gordy, the narrator goes on to describe how saying a thing, putting it into words, can serve to dismantle it rather than to prop it up. That if you speak to tell a deer you mean it no harm, the act of speaking disproves that from the perspective of the deer. Of course he goes on to describe the catch, which is that if you don't use words to describe your intentions, thoughts or feelings, those things die without being shared. And there you have it... words being necessary to share and to perpetuate dreams have the power to diminish those same things... if you're not careful.

With the hope and intention of perpetuating my vision, I use the words available to me to share what I envision.

Still, and I suppose always, a work in progress -- here is my mission statement:
With focused determination, unbridled curiosity and decided happiness I embrace activities and pursuits that fuel my passion to inspire, support and encourage collaboration, openness, active and creative thought, laughter and connectedness leading me to achieve extraordinary goals and help others achieve the same.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cars correction

Holy memory lapse!

Thanks to my friend Margo for the slap to the cerebellum -- as the Altoids TV commercials are now calling it.

I guess when I said that I had never attended car races, I was thinking along the lines of Daytona 500 or Indy cars, drag races, etc... and I totally blocked out all the stock car races and demolition derbies on the dirt track during all those Great Jones County Fairs of my childhood.

I have just two things to say:
Doh!
&
Thanks again Margo!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cars

We are a car family. Every February for the last thirty-some years my uncles host a car show in Monticello -- the Rod and Custom Car Show. People come from all over the country to enter their vehicles (cars, trucks, dragsters, motorcycles, etc) in the various contests. Growing up, my siblings, cousins and I were always as much a part of the car show as we were able. In fact I'm pretty sure the sign that goes out into the main intersection of town as the in-town advertising is one that I made when I was still in high school (check it out in the "Cars" slide show.)

It might seem like I've assimilated into the car culture. I can explain to you the reason that my Subaru Forester's horizontally opposed boxer engine is superior to other car engines. I can tell you that the alignment of Bindi's (that's my car's name) engine lowers the center of gravity allowing the Forester to have a higher ground clearance than bigger SUVs without the worry of tipping over. And because it is horizontally opposed the engine evenly delivers torque to the drive train which means that when you hit the gas both wheels get the same amount of power and the car doesn't pull (ever so slightly) to one side.

This might seem really impressive... making it sound like I could offer to soup up your ride, change the oil, etc. But there's more.... actually, there's less.

I don't really have any special car skills. What I can do... I can check and fill the oil in my car as well as the wiper fluid. I can (and have) add coolant/antifreeze. I can change my wiper blades, the lamps in the headlights, fuses, that sort of thing. I have a Class C CDL (no air brakes) which means that at one time I could lift the hood of a former school bus and identify some of the parts of an engine, but since it was by rote, please don't ask me to tell you about anything other than a battery (to which I am fully capable of appropriately attaching jumper cables).

And I've never attended a car race of any sort. So I've never really been absorbed into the car culture. Still, I have always appreciated different cars and enjoyed the annual car show here in Monticello.

With a family-run event, it is easy to take for granted the magnitude. Each year my uncles work to create a successful show, lining up entrants and sponsors, arranging celebrity appearances. Celebrities at the car show have ranged from A-list to D-list. One year Shirley Muldowney (a.k.a. the First Lady of Drag Racing) was their celebrity guest for the two-day event. Former Iowa Hawkeye Basketball player Steve Carfino made an appearance once in the '80s -- y'know, back when he was still considered A-list. Another year, I portrayed the celebrity, which was some blue furry PacMan-like creature. I think it was called Snafu, but can't recall and Google isn't helping me to jog that memory at all. So I just wandered anonymously amongst the cars dressed in a giant foam blob wearing a giant foam hat. This year Butch Patrick, better known as Eddy from TV's "The Munsters" and Paul Le Mat, who played John Milner in the film "American Graffiti" added the Hollywood glitz to the show.

2007 though... that was a classic. In the middle of the ice storm that put Iowa in the national news due to widespread power outages, I called Mom to see if she cared to brave the storm and head over to the car show (about 5 blocks from my house) for a possible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet "Joanie" and "Potsie" (Erin Moran and Anson Williams) from one of my favorite TV shows from childhood "Happy Days." She agreed, so I fired up my trusty Subaru (always faithful in the treacherous Iowa elements!) and we slogged through the thick, slushy snow and ice. Once we made it to the show, where apparently no one else had ventured that night, we hit the celebrity table where Mom tried to recruit the two Southern Californians and their staff for some late-night snowmobiling. (Note that my mother does not own a snowmobile or the necessary gear and has no close friends with such access!)

She nearly had them convinced and was hitting up her network for some snowmobiling connections when the cast and crew realized that their travel schedule conflicted with her suggested plan. I changed topics when I called my sister and exclaimed, "Hey, do you want to talk to Joanie and Potsie?" Erin Moran good-naturedly accepted my phone and spoke briefly to my sister, then handed the phone to Anson Williams asked what they were doing. She told him that she and her husband were in bed keeping each other warm since at that moment they had been without electricity most of the day due to the ice storm. Williams found it endlessly interesting, possibly quaint... He didn't think married couples did that kind of thing in this "day and age."

They were so entertained by the whole ice storm, snowmobiling recruitment, talking to my sister hubbub that they enthusiastically agreed to have their picture taken with me. Apologies... it's not posted here because it's on film and in this digital age... I've lost track of the film camera that has the photo. As soon I figure out where the roll of film is and get it developed and scanned (I know, I feel so old-fashioned, even quaint!) I'll post it!

I went digital this year. So check out my photos of the '08 Rod and Custom Car Show.

Friday, February 29, 2008

My first RAGBRAI

Witnessing one of the most infamous streaking events of Iowa's week long bicycle ride across the state (RAGBRAI) overshadowed most of the pain caused by my biggest rookie mistake: lack of training. During the 2004 summer bicycle ride widely viewed as a rolling spring break for the 40+ set the average participant can't fit into any norm. Arguably the first bicycle ride of its kind in the US, RAGBRAI attracts families, racers, casual riders, people in spandex on carbon frames to unicyclists to Huffy riders in cut-off jeans. There is no norm, no average. The ride can be non-stop party from river to river for one person or a wholesome family picnic for the approximately 500-mile bicycle ride.

On the second day of my first partial attempt to participate in this infamous Iowa bike ride, the lunch stop provided a surreal mix of the extremes. Conveniently located just beyond the halfway point, Olin and its residents provided the means for a restorative lunch break with beer gardens, vendors hawking almost any food you could wish for, live music and perhaps most sought after... massages. During my hard earned lunch break, I found the massage tent and promptly signed up. As I stood inside the tent waiting impatiently for my turn on the massage table, the sounds of the crowd buzzing and whirring outside began to lull me into reverie. Then a strange murmur broke through the steady hum outside the tent, so I stepped out to see what had muted the party. Just as I stuck my head out I saw three naked bicyclists racing through town, turning the corner around the town square and out of sight into the throng of cyclists already on the road. They pedaled so fast I couldn't say for sure, but I believe the streakers only wore helmets and shoes.

The second the temporary nudists left our view, the crowd cheered and went right back to the cheery chatter and hubbub that preceded, no one scandalized or outraged. We shared a collective shoulder-shrug, "eh, that's RAGBRAI" and all returned to the business of vacationing on a bike ride across Iowa during the hottest week of the year.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Firsts

First half marathon... Actually, my first race!
First time in Austin... Actually, my first time in Texas! (I don't count four times at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport... and neither do any of the Texans I ran it past!)

What a great time in a great city. I traveled to Austin, Texas last weekend to run my first half marathon. The weekend started chilly and rainy... although compared to what I had left behind in Iowa it was a welcome change. I'll take 40-50 degrees even with rain over 5 degrees, snow and wind chill factor of 15-20 below zero.

Saturday, February 16, packet pickup day, it rained most of the day. And when it didn't rain, it poured. When it didn't rain or pour, the wind gusted furiously. I think it was a conspiracy of the northern states sending what they could to scare their northern residents back. Austin won though... Sunday, Race Day turned out beautifully. Before the 7:00 am start, temps of 40-something kept masses of runners huddled around propane warmers. Fireworks over Town Lake (which Austinites repeatedly and half-apologetically pointed out is really the Colorado River dammed up -- It's OK guys, we do that here in Iowa too!) near the Congress Avenue bridge celebrated the start of the race.

After the gun signaling the start, it took a few minutes before those of us at the back of the pack actually started running. Which as I understand is the norm for big races. This being my first time, I was nervous enough that I stopped being chatty. If you know me well, you know this is the extreme... generally with nervousness I get wound up into a state in which I can't stop talking and may even start jumping up and down. Pushed to the limit, I just clam up and observe everyone else around me as if I am invisible. I pretty much stayed in invisible mode until I crossed the finish line. Just before crossing the finish line I caught a glimpse of my friend and RAGBRAI teammate Chris V. (the initial is for any readers who know that half of our team is named Chris, the rest are named Rob and Steve) who waved and cheered. I had really kicked it into high gear coming around the corner in front of the Texas capitol building closing in on the finish and just as that final energy burst began to flag, Chris hollered out my name and I kept it going.

The invaluable nature of a teammate manifested itself for me that day. Not for the first time. But there it was nonetheless. Had Chris, a veteran marathoner, not been there, I can't tell you how nervous I would have been. When I speak of teammates from our RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG it may sound as if it is too good to be true... that this group of people can't possibly be as amazing as they sound. And if I didn't know them myself, I might be right there with you. But I do know them. And while I will not do them the injustice of bestowing upon them superhuman qualities this team, from my experience, brings out the best in others, we help each other to believe in ourselves, we might be aware of each other's vulnerabilities, but we view each other in their strengths. So that's who was waiting for me at the finish line. Team LIVESTRONG: Chris there and cheering me on; Amy, who called the day before to make sure her voice was in my head saying, "you can do it!" on Race Day; Jennzing, my sherpa-hero who inspires me whenever she can and who sent me a "whoohooo!" text message post-race; Lisa who never gives up; Melody, who cheered me on during training; and my family... who as you know are ALWAYS part of any team effort; my new friends and Austin hosts for the weekend Matt & Brandy... without whom I would have been homeless the night before the race! Oh no, this is starting to sound like an Oscar speech... the warning music is about to start and I'm going to get pushed off the stage by some tart in an evening gown.

So, anyway, back to the race... after the finish line, racers get herded down a feeding chute grabbing water, sports drinks, fruit, granola bars and other goodies (I missed the chicken noodle soup). Once I was free from the cattle drive, Chris and I wandered around until we found the free beer. We sat on the ground to drink our free beverages wondering how soon we would regret this seating arrangement and promptly met some fellow half-marathoners. On our way to the line for the outhouses, we ran into a friend and fellow member of the cancer community, Jonny Imerman, founder and director of Imerman's Angels. His infectious energy brought together a crew of other runners and so we all headed out for a big meal to replace our depleted carb stores.

The race started and ended in downtown Austin which is at once cosmopolitan and laid back. It's easy to get around the town, friendliness becomes an understatement when strangers make eye contact, smile and say hello... something I expect in small town Iowa, but not something I've experienced to that extent in any other "big" city. And I have been out of the state of Iowa, not only that, I have been out of the country. While I have to say that every city I've been to has had friendly people (and of course the random crabby person who clearly hates his/her job). But Austin... so far, you are first on my list of favorite cities. Austin turned out to be WAY cooler than I expected it to be... and I expected it to be pretty darn cool!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reality check

Today is my birthday. My birthday present to myself...
Disillusionment
: noun, a freeing or being freed from illusion.

It sounds negative. Harsh. I guess if you blind-side someone else with it, it can be. But... eyes open, facing forward. It is a gift.

Reality for the realist or the pessimist creates the norm. For an idealist and optimist like myself. Reality shifts perspective. A shift in perspective always involves some creativity. And creativity is always a welcome gift... in my world anyway.

In the trite but true category, for the most part I like to think I've taken Casey Kasem's advice to keep my feet on the ground while reaching for the stars. I haven't listened to the top 40 show in a while, so I'm not sure if DJ Kasem is still offering those words of wisdom. Either way. It takes a conscious effort to perform that exercise with a personality like mine. Any optimist/idealist will tell you. Staying in touch with reality, on a list of priorities, is right there with keeping in touch with your second cousin's best friend's ex-girlfriend's mother... once removed. But because it's important to your cousin, you do it.

Though I thought had I been in reality mode, this week I came crashing back to Earth with some disappointments. It says nothing about the people involved. They didn't change. They are still perfectly human i.e. imperfect... the way I prefer my fellow human beings. (Feet on the ground!)

So when some of the people in my life this week didn't live up to all of their promises I had to look at the big picture. The question I had to ask was whether or not these people failed in reality or if they had only failed to live up to my idealized view of them.

A long-held belief of mine that everyone and everything deserves a second chance shows how my optimism sometimes rescues me from my idealism. A quotation of Eleanor Roosevelt's that I carry around with me, literally and figuratively, expresses this best:

All human beings have failings, all human beings have needs and temptations and stresses. Men and women who live together through long years get to know one another's failings; but they also come to know what is worthy of respect and admiration in those they live with and in themselves.

If at the end one can say, "this man used to the limit the powers that God granted him; he was worthy of love and respect and of the sacrifices of many people, made in order that he might achieve what he deemed to be his task," then that life has been lived well and there are no regrets. -- Eleanor Roosevelt


So now after my illusion-ectomy. I feel readjusted. Refreshed. Back to my usual big picture, in which
I'd much rather believe in people and be wrong on occasion than be right about people on occasion for all the wrong reasons. It takes a lot less energy. Being right for the wrong reasons just doesn't seem to be worth the extra effort.

A special shout out to my friend and "sherpa-hero" Jennzing, because she helped me get to this spot. :)

Special note: I don't mean to be vague or cryptic about any of this. If elaboration seems necessary, perhaps in future posts I can share more concrete stories to illustrate these thoughts. For now though you can have concept, metaphor and broad terms.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Finding inspiration in others

Sometimes I find inspiration and motivation from within... sometimes I find it in the words or actions of others.

Strange but true, one font of inspiration to me is YouTube... I turn there sometimes to see Jim Valvano's ESPY humanitarian award acceptance speech. When that impassioned directive fails to inspire me, I'll know that my heart has turned to stone. The last time I checked, Jimmy V still fires me up to be a better person. Take a peek:



No need to take notes... here's what he said:
"To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives.
Number 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day.
Number 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought.
And Number 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy.

But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week; you're going to have something special."
-- Jimmy V.

Laughing and thinking daily come pretty naturally to me. Being moved to tears daily is another thing. The week last August that Maggie, my elderly golden retriever mix, came to the end of her long, well-loved life brought several days of my emotions being moved to tears... not all over the dog.


For several months Maggie had developed large unexplained lumps on both sides. By early 2007 they had grown to such cumbersome sizes she lost the flexibility necessary to clean herself. Canine arthritis added to her decrepit existence. It had become exponentially more difficult for her to get around.

Tuesday morning that week she couldn't walk by herself. I had to help her back into the house after her morning routine. However as I went through my morning routine, she seemed to recover enough that I felt comfortable going to work. Unfortunately when I returned, she had deteriorated again. Taking Maggie outside that evening revealed to me that I needed to make that final decision. One I had been deliberating for months. But when I saw that she couldn't stand to do her duty, I called Mom to share the terrible news. She called the veterinarian for me who left his granddaughter's birthday party to come to my house and "help Maggie out."

I sat with my Maggiepie on the grass under the tree in my front yard and the vet carefully explained the process and proceeded, always asking if I was ready for the next step. So her last moments were at home with me petting her and telling her I loved her.

Now I know I'm speaking of the life of a dog. But heartbreak is heartbreak no matter the cause -- there is no sliding scale for this pain. It's more like a road map. Some places are easier to navigate than others; easier to travel through. So this grief is like a small town that I've been to, know where it is, could find it if I had to, I might drive through on my way somewhere else, but I'm not living there. No plans to move there.

That same week, on Wednesday night I joined Mom for a walk after which, she and I stopped by a family friend's house. Tom's late wife Michele's birthday would have been that day. Michele died 20 months before of leukemia, which she fought twice before the cancer finally took her body. Revealing to me a new location on that road map of heartbreak. Tom lives on the outskirts of a major city in the geography of grief. That day stretched him again to the limits of his pain and he clearly was working hard to keep that city in sight without getting lost inside it. He spoke of how much he misses Michele. But he also shared the joy he finds in his new grandson, his adventures in re-entering the dating world as a 50-60-year-old. I wasn't looking for it that day, but found inspiration in the emotional journey of another person.

I've got my own road map, my own journey, joys, griefs and heartbreaks. Finding strength and inspiration in others gives me strength for my travels; inspires me to do well and expect more of myself.

Next stop... Austin, Texas for my first ever 1/2 marathon. Inspired by... Jimmy V, Tom, Michele, YOU!


Monday, February 4, 2008

Deciding to pursue happiness

Some time ago, after a particularly soul-sucking day at work leading people with few followership skills, I stopped by a discount store to run a fruitless errand as a favor to Mom.

Are you with me? I'm shopping for drapery hooks (how inspiring) for someone else's drapes (I hate drapes to begin with) after a long day at work (a thankless job in which I was not using my strengths or talents) . And the store has no drapery hooks. While in all likelihood it was a great day to be alive... it didn't really look like it to me at the time. I took the opportunity to be a grump.

I'm not sure why at the time this seemed related, because it doesn't follow to me now, but on that particular day, the fruitless errand caused me to notice all the couples in the store. In my aggravated state, I decided to do some unnecessary comparisons. Looking at so many people wandering the store, clearly in couple status, I wondered if I looked hard enough, would I find something in them extraordinarily different from myself.

I saw women taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, same general dimensions, longer hair, shorter hair, prettier, uglier, same degree of attractiveness... women who seemed generally happier (based on appearances only) less happy or equally happy in comparison to myself. It seemed like the only difference was fate. In their individual universes they had met someone with whom they could couple. I asked myself, "how is their universe different? Do they have different criteria for being with someone? Are some of these women, people who have equally high expectations who have still managed to see through all the cultural bullshit and find someone whose company they enjoy, whom they can converse, respect and love? ...someone who also curls their toes?"

If all of that is possible, then what would I have to do to align my universe with a similar outcome? At the time I puzzled over the idea that fate expects us to go on lifeless (perhaps an unfair generalization based on my own dating experiences) dates meeting strange people in order to find someone that you can imagine spending the rest of your life with.

And in my momentary status as a grump, I asked myself what the point of marriage is anyway? I mean, isn't it historically just a business arrangement? Nowhere near any research sources or experts on the matter I mentally extemporized that really, marriage is just a business... matchmaking, dowries, marriage contracts, annulments, prenuptial agreements. It's a simple supply and demand relationship. Historically speaking, (and again, this is from my temporary grump state) I reasoned that men needed someone to take care of their homes and provide them with children a.k.a. free labor and women needed men to give them places to live and food to eat... and of course then they would have more children who would grow up to have their own business agreements with needs to be met... supply and demand.

But it's never really that simple is it? What is the ratio of loveless marriages to happily-wedded couples now. What was the ratio in supposedly simpler times when matchmakers matched, dowries endowed, when couples met on their wedding days? Were things simpler "long ago?" Love is not a newly invented feeling or concept. People find each other all the time, enjoy spending time together, admire each other, share secrets, do kind and generous things. Sometimes this is friendship. Sometimes it is more profound.

Is love or marriage more complex nowadays? Is it simpler or the same as it always was. I have no idea, but when I see matchmaking website ads on TV it makes me wonder if we're going about the process a little backwards. It seems like so many of us have borrowed from "Jerry McGuire" and are making it our zombie-fied primary purpose to find this supposed soul mate, this person who "completes you." And we're not getting the ick-factor of it. When you begin this search for the missing part of you... that person who "completes" you, don't you put your life on hold? It becomes a scavenger hunt for soul mates. And once you find each other you are supposed to make each other happy. After winning the scavenger hunt and finding this person who will complete you and make you happy, THEN you begin your life. Not a fun game, really... because, what if at the end of the scavenger hunt you haven't found anything? You're incomplete and unhappy, not to mention being incomplete and unhappy along the way. Because face it... if you're in the search for these reasons and you haven't found your missing link, you must not be happy... and you clearly are incomplete.

Wouldn't it be more fun, not to mention more fulfilling to live your life following your passions, doing things that interest you meeting people with similar interests and passions. Get to know them and their stories, learn about the world through each other. And while you're doing all that, be a complete person, flaws and strengths, joys, triumphs and sorrows. Share with EVERYONE you love. Be happy. By yourself, with your loved ones, and for yourself. Because happiness and completeness are not gifts someone else gives to you. Happiness is a decision. Completeness... is something that describes a puzzle. A person can be an enigma, but not a puzzle. People don't need to be completed they need to be inspired, fulfilled, loved.

Meanwhile, if your quest is larger... for life and passion, the pursuit of happiness, in the end you have a journey rather than a hunt. Your journey passes through and touches many lives. And all the while you hold onto the belief that by living in search of life and passion, you will be happy, inspired, loved, fulfilled. And living that way, will lead you to all of your soul-mates... not just one. Because if your dearest friends and family are not also your soul-mates how complete is your life's puzzle?

And if leading a life in pursuit of happiness and passion does not lead you to just one soul-mate with whom you have a mutually fulfilling, loving and intimate relationship, then at least you were happy along the way following your passions, feeding your interests, loving your family and friends and hopefully making a positive impact on the world.

How's that for a former grump from the aisles of a discount store? I may not be the Dalai Lama, but I'm sure I'm happy. I made that decision a while ago.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Post-caucus anti-stress syndrome

It has been much lonelier in Iowa this week. I have far fewer voice mail messages inviting me to meet people at community centers, hometown cafes and local libraries. As exciting and fun and invasive as it was for the last few months to be so in demand, I have to admit that I have accepted the relative silence with some ambivalence. Did I take all the opportunities I could to learn everything I could about these people vying for my attention and support and to ask them hard questions? Will I ever see them again? In those few opportunities that I did take, did I happen to shake hands with the next president of the United States?

As for hard questions, I only asked one. When Barack Obama stopped in Monticello, Iowa during his campaign, I asked him if he would make cancer a national priority and specifically asked him to separate it a little from his more general discussion of reforming the health care system. He of course answered affirmatively and because I worded it the way the question was asked at the Presidential Cancer Forum hosted in Cedar Rapids, Iowa by the Lance Armstrong Foundation in August 2007, he specifically mentioned a discussion that he said he had with Lance Armstrong on that topic. Still I found his answer to be somewhat general. He said that he would increase funding and make it easier for young and innovative researchers to get grants. And perhaps this isn't a question that can really be answered as specifically as did the other candidates who were in attendance at the forum. Could it really be a wait and see kind of question? I don't know. That exchange occurred in December.

Monticello was also the location when I asked John Edwards a question. Granted it wasn't a tough one... and it was after he closed the session to public questions. Since he had already answered my big question... the "Cancer Question" at the forum, I hadn't really thought of any questions of substance. After his passionate speech and Q&A session, he stuck around for a few minutes shaking hands and providing autographs. When my turn came to shake hands with the candidate, my burning question was, "are you going to ride RAGBRAI again next year?" He paused for a moment and looked at me (I don't know if he recognized me from RAGBRAI 2007 when I tried to get on the LIVESTRONG bus while he and Lance Armstrong were on it... which I didn't figure out until later.) His answer was a noncommittal "I don't know, I'll have to think about that." But he seemed pleased to have a lightweight question at that point. I doubt if I made a huge impression, but I think I made a brief one.

The day before the caucuses I convinced Mom to accompany me to Cedar Rapids where we had perhaps a once in a lifetime shot to see the three front-runners on the Democratic side of this race... and we made it to all three appearances. I didn't get to ask any questions, but I shook hands with Hillary Clinton.

I missed my one shot at meeting Chris Dodd during the campaign due to weather and last minute Christmas celebration scheduling changes within the family. I don't think Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich ever called... but who knows. It's possible that I just didn't answer or hung up on them (I don't take prerecorded, electronically delivered messages well. If I have to say hello more than twice, the conversation is over.)

Is that everyone? I can't remember anymore. And now that it's January 10th, do I have to? (Oh, how insensitive.)

Then came caucus night. There's a reason they don't send the media to some of the smaller towns. It's not as exciting here in small-town Iowa as it looks on TV because the big towns, like Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, have large groups and people get all riled up. Excited caucus-goers for the various candidates become animated and lobby hard to get people to change "sides" to join their candidates group. In Monticello at the Berndes Center, everyone politely sat on folding chairs near signs bearing their chosen candidate's name. Four candidates had people in their corner... Bill Richardson, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and my man, John Edwards. (No, it's not because of RAGBRAI!) When it came time to lure the two Richardson supporters, a person from each of the other three camps walked over and politely and quietly invited them to switch. No excited gesticulation or passionate debate. Then they sadly gave up and headed over to the Obama group.

Our precinct ended up with three delegates each for Obama and Clinton. Two for Edwards... and I am one of those two. Not only that, because our precinct is so small, and despite extraordinary turnout here (as was the case all over Iowa) of the 60 voters present, very few were interested in some of the other party roles. So not only am I going to the county convention in March as a delegate for Edwards, I am also now a member of the county Democratic Central Committee. I now have a two-year commitment to something, while I'm sure I'm up for the responsibilities, I have no idea what they are.

Afterwards I accompanied a couple of other caucus-goers to a local restaurant where we ran into other locals from different precincts and compared notes. The division wasn't exactly the same as at the other precincts, but I think the only candidates with votes from Jones County were the three front-runners.

The numerous events and invitations, passionate speeches and glad handing all provided a different atmosphere in my little corner of Iowa for a moment. I enjoyed getting the chance to interact with candidates (and in some cases their spouses) learn more about them and really see them in action... at least campaign-wise. While I can't say I miss the 10-20 daily phone calls and the back to back TV ads, on behalf of my state, I miss having Iowa in the spotlight. It's fun to have your state be considered exciting and the "place to be" every once in a while. From what I've seen, it only happens once every four years, and for one week each July. Other than that, Iowa is not on people's "must go" lists.