Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Photo Challenge: Days 14 & 28

30-Day Photo Challenge

Day 14 -- Flowers
Flowers my husband sent me for my birthday and Valentine's Day. He's a keeper.

Day 28 -- Daily routine

When I walk to work each morning before I cross the Iowa River, I see this reminder. "You are not what you own."  I like it. 

Photo Challenge: Days 12 & 26

30-Day Photo Challenge

Day 12 -- Close-up
This close-up features two of my favorite things... from the office anyway. Binder clips and note cards.

Day 26 -- Something Old
Here's an old note from my childhood that I've held onto simply because I find it funny. I don't recall the gift that accompanied this note and doubt my mom does either. I do recall that there were a couple of lessons from this. One in grammar, the other in etiquette. The less obvious one... I have a sister. Even though I wasn't using "dearest daughter" to imply any favoritism it does create an unintended context. Live and learn!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Photo Challenge: Days 11 & 25

30-Day Photo Challenge

Day 11 -- Something Fun
Tell me a photo of silos at the "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" angle isn't something fun. Go ahead. Seriously. If it's not fun, I want to know!

Day 25 --Sun Flare
I know, I already used this one. Big deal. It's not like there's someone enforcing the rules. Right?
It's an interesting picture to say the least... or the most.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Photo Challenge -- Breaking the rules

Not sure whether there are written rules for participating in the 30-day photo challenge. It seems implied that one should be taking a picture each day of the assigned subject to see how things unfold.
However, I have taken my own tack with this assignment. Sometimes I take a new photo. Sometimes I find one that fits from my own archives. Either way, I'm using the assignment to do what I have been doing with all challenges recently -- to tackle my feelings of grief.
It seems common to use the words or phrases "dealing with," "working through," "handling," or "struggling with" when referring to our difficult emotions. Today I realized that simply viewing grief (or any other difficult emotion for that matter) this way means that it is something we need to leave behind or put off. Or as if it's something we can fight with until it gives up.
Grief doesn't give up though. And while it's not easy. I've begun to see grief as something that requires lot of attention and care. It's a part of my life right now and fighting it or struggling with it just seems to drag things out. I'm considering a more friendly approach. We'll see if I'm capable.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Photo Challenge: Days 10 & 24

30-Day Photo Challenge
Digging deeper into my photo archives.
In 2007 I joined RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG. As a member of that team I committed to raising not only funds, but awareness in relation to cancer support and research. I took on that challenge through ribbons. Each year that I ride with LIVESTRONG, I wear ribbons with the names of people who have had cancer, whether they currently or no longer survive.

Day 10 -- Something I made
This is the wreath I made from the ribbons. I have yet to add the 2008, 2009 and 2011 ribbons.

Day 24 -- A smile
That's my Maggie-Pie-Dog. She's gone now. As of August 2007 as a matter of fact. She was a cutie pie and liked to smile though. She even posed for this photo.
I wrote about Maggie once before here:
http://traveltheopenroad.blogspot.com/2008/02/finding-inspiration-in-others.html .
If you knew the Magpie, you'd find it hard to believe it was only once before!

Photo Challenge: Days 9 & 23

30-Day Photo Challenge

Day 9 -- Faceless self-portrait
I find faceless self-portraits fun and interesting. How many ways can you portray yourself without showing your face. It seems endless. Most of my faceless self-portraits feature either my shadow or my feet. This particular self-portrait occurs, once again in the Boundary Waters.

Day 23 -- Sunset
Sunset in the Boundary Waters. I couldn't decide which I liked better. They both need a little straightening, but here they are unedited. Enjoy!

Photo Challenge: Days 8 & 22

30-Day Photo Challenge
Day 8 -- Technology

So it's old technology. It's still technology!

Day 21 -- Trees
There's more lake than trees in this photo. But the trees do such a wonderful job of framing the lake in this favorite photo of my in-laws cabin in northern Minnesota. (Now former cabin -- boo hoo!)

Photo Challenge: Days 7 & 21

30-Day Photo Challenge

Day 7 -- Something New
Okay, the phrase "something new" brings to mind all the things a bride should wear on her wedding day. Here is a picture from my wedding day that shows the borrowed, the blue, and the new... (the old was a hanky that my great grandmother embroidered. I don't think that made it into any photos, but it's there tucked away.)
The old and borrowed are two pairs of earrings... the earrings I wore as earrings I borrowed from my mother, whose own mother owned the jewelry. The blue comes from the clip earrings that I'm wearing as adornments on the dress. The new is barely visible -- the necklace I'm wearing was a Christmas gift from my soon-to-be (at that time) husband. The pretty gal in the photo is my sister.

Day 21 -- Pretty pattern
It might not seem like a pattern, but I'm pretty sure there's one there. (Granite in the Boundary Waters.)

Photo Challenge: Days 6 & 20

30-Day Photo Challenge

Day 6 -- Childhood memory
That's my teddy bear and my rocking chair. Both from my childhood. I took the picture preparing to rid myself of the two objects. I still have the bear.

Day 20 -- What I read
This is what I JUST finished reading late last night. It is a great read. (Here's a link to get it for yourself if you like.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Photo Challenge: Days 5 & 19

30-Day Photo Challenge

Again, little explanation is required. I will note however that these were taken during our vacation in June 2011 to Seagull Lake. That's up 'dere in 'da Boundary Waters.
Day 5 -- someone I love
My hubby Jim at sunset on our spot on the lake. 

Day 19 -- where I slept
Our campsite. The very edge of the tent is on the left of the photo. THAT'S where I slept.

Photo Challenge: Days 4 & 18

30-Day Photo Challenge:
These seem self-explanatory enough... since I'm following the implied rules this time around.
Day 4 -- Favorite Color

Day 18 -- In my bag

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Photo Challenge: Days 3 & 16

30-Day Photo Challenge

I messed up the pattern yesterday... and posted it late. So here's to catching up on catching up!

Day 3: Clouds
I made this photo exactly one month following Dad's departure from this world. In deep contemplation one afternoon while on Seagull Lake in the Boundary Waters, I was taken by the vision of the rocks showing through the surface of the water which in turn reflected the clouds. 

Day 16: What I ate
As a kid in a small town and a new neighborhood, we used to eat this stuff all the time. We called it sheep shower. I think it's also called wood sorrel. But don't quote me on that. I'm not a wild edibles expert.

Photo Challenge: Days 2 & 17

For the 30-day photo challenge.
Assignments for days 2 & 17. 
Day 2 -- What I wore: 
What I wore a couple of days before Dad died. After spending the night at Mom & Dad's house and discovering my packing deficiencies for the overnight trip, I borrowed a t-shirt of Mom's and a cardigan of Dad's. 
I thought, "Crap! If I wear this and Dad dies before I can return it, will I want to keep it forever?" 
Within 48 hours, Dad did in fact die without me having returned the garment. Not wholly unexpected as he was in hospice and failing in rapid streaks. (So I'm not claiming to have precipitated anything with my choice of clothing to borrow. I'm not that delusional about my psychic powers.)
I have yet to attempt to return the sweater. It made its way to my office where I use it when the AC gets unbearable. 

Day 17 -- on the shelf: 
On the shelf in my office -- face it, I spend a good chunk of my day here -- is a plant my coworkers sent as a memorial gift for Dad's wake and funeral services. It provides enjoyment because it's just a great plant (a bird's nest fern) and because I use it as a reminder that life takes care and attention. Alongside that is the Marvin the Martian coffee mug that I now use for watering the new plant and the lamp that I brought from home, a garage-sale find that provides the homey feeling that people frequently comment about when visiting my office. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

30-day photo challenge

A day late (or 15) and a dollar short...
I just found this today, but decided I wanted to join anyway despite the challenge time frame being half over. That just means it's half ready. It's from a blog I found via recommendations in Google Reader. 
The wild olive blogger got it from Oh So Lovely: Living a Lovely Life
I think that's the start of it... feel free to correct me.

My plan is to catch up by doing the photo for today along with the first one. Tomorrow I will do the assignment for the 16th as well as the 2nd... 17th & 3rd, etc. following that pattern. 
First photos (a.k.a. 1st & 15th):

Monday, August 15, 2011

Photo Challenge: Days 1 & 15

Day 1 photo -- Self Portrait:
On vacation in the Boundary Waters.

Day 15 photo -- My Shoes:
(...are on top of the world. Apologies to "The Bobs.")
I must admit, it's not a great composition. It was simply an experiment with the fun options on the camera on my phone and my Nike LIVESTRONG shoes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Any journey is a pilgrimage

Upon completion of my ride across the state. I came upon a reminder from Paulo Coelho's blog... his post was titled the same as this one. And without even reading the entire post. I was overwhelmed by the perfect serendipity of that post coinciding with the end of this particular pilgrimage.

If you haven't heard of Paulo Coelho, read his books or follow his blog, you might consider checking into it. His kindness, insight and openness to the world are inspiring.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Will I finish the ride?

In my last post I barely mentioned the concept of "giving up" versus "letting go." A razor-thin fence to sit upon. There I was Tuesday night of RAGBRAI knowing full well that giving up on RAGBRAI and going home after the first three days would be so easy. Knowing that giving up would be the thing that Mom would advocate when I called her. Not because she's in favor of giving up on things, but because she didn't want to spend four more days worrying about the myriad dangers she could imagine taking me out of the ride by a decision other than my own. Knowing that she too travels her own unique journey through grief over the same loss. Knowing all this, I called Mom...

...Who gave me all the outs I needed. She gave me permission to give up; to come home and spend the rest of the week resting and relaxing rather than huffing and puffing my way up hills in the heat and humidity that had driven the rest of Iowa indoors. She gave me permission to let go; to stop trying so hard to make the ride all about Dad; to put aside the weight of my mission to gather names for the 454 ribbons adorning my jersey. She gave me permission to forget about everything else and just ride for myself. To have fun.

I know she would have preferred that I stop riding, again for her own peace of mind. At the same time, she knew the odds of me giving  up versus letting go.

I let go. The ride continued the next morning. And what I saw could be considered miraculous. But perhaps you would have had to be there to believe that this was so.

We left early because it was a longer day that promised continuation of some hills. By the edge of town I saw a man who appeared to be a paraplegic riding a recumbent hand-pedal bike. He sported a jersey advertising a Multiple Sclerosis Society bike ride. I asked if he had done that ride. He affirmed that he had a few years back. I thanked him for riding and let him know that Dad had had MS.

As we left the next "town" (a boarded up school building and a couple of houses at a crossroads where one of the portable bike shops that follows the RAGBRAI route had set up) Jim had an exchange with another rider whose companion informed him that it was her birthday. Everyone around began showering her with birthday wishes. I asked, "should we sing?" Jim started singing to her, I joined in and we received applause and appreciation. It's one of those unique joys I find in this particular ride. We're all friends. Except I don't think I ever saw her face and know for sure I wouldn't recognize a thing about her if I saw her again. And it doesn't matter!

Shortly thereafter we encountered a pair of riders from San Francisco area and chatted with them about the hills of the prior three days, the weather, etc. As we began to part ways, I saw the "license plate" of the bike passing us. It bore the name of the hospice volunteer who visited Dad weekly or better over the last year. I hollered a greeting at Kurt, also a former coworker of mine, who didn't recognize me. Not surprising with me  in my bike helmets and sunglasses and he riding ahead and trying to look back while not running into other cyclists. I told him who I was. We had a brief exchange and off he rode into the rest of the pack.

Later we ran into some former teammates and good friends who we hadn't expected to see at all. We had stopped for chocolate milk. We turned around and there they were. One of them informed us that we were about a mile from his mom's house and that she had all sorts of refreshments for us.

Despite it being a long day, we arrived back at our team's camp early enough to see about getting a massage from our team's massage therapy team. Oddly enough, one of them had a completely open schedule.

And when asked how my ride was that day, I was able to honestly respond, "Awesome!"

Series of miracles or one big miracle? I don't know. I think the miracle is that something happened to me to enable me to see all these things and appreciate them. All those people would have been there whether I interacted with them or not. Would that have been miraculous?


Friday, August 5, 2011

Where to now?

Tuesday night of RAGBRAI ended with me in tears, hating everything.

The question... with all that against the ride, should I continue? It wasn't 100% clear. "Giving up" vs. "Letting go" has been a long-term struggle.

Perhaps I should back up. Dad had multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed about the time I was in kindergarten or first grade. Of course diagnosis follows a period of time with doctors and experts working out what might be going on preceded by another period of time in which Mom and Dad were attempting to unravel the mystery. So Dad's MS more than likely precedes my time on earth. Up until two-and-a-half months ago, I had spent my entire life in a world that included my dad. That world also included his disease. And while that disease did not define him. It did serve to shape our world.

It makes sense then that I've spent my whole life preparing for an untimely death of my father. Sometimes consciously each time he had a setback or surgery or unrelated yet nevertheless worrisome health issue.

Does that lessen the grief, spreading it out over the course of forty-some years? Does it make the death less sudden?

I read something about sleep once. That most people perceive it as something that happens gradually and something that we can control. In fact it only seems gradual because we take some control over the environment by darkening the room, ensuring a quiet (or quieter) environment, lying down, closing our eyes and all other manner of making ourselves more comfortable. And because we are relaxed we don't notice that the falling asleep part happens the exact same way that it does -- all of a sudden -- when we nod off in a meeting, at our desks, behind the wheel. Just because our head does not drop suddenly to our chest, thus waking us up, does not mean that when lying down we do not drop away from awake to asleep just as suddenly.

And so despite the fact that over the years multiple sclerosis worked it's magic -- black as it is -- on Dad's muscles and nerves, he was here in this world to visit, talk to or just sit next to during an episode of Wheel of Fortune.  And now he's not.

At 12:44 a.m. on May 16, 2011 he was still here. At 12:45 a.m. on May 16, 2011 he was not.

Tectonic plates inside my body shifted at that moment. The world is a completely different place now. And I can't find my way yet. There are no new maps. And I think I may be the only cartographer for this new world.

And that makes me sad and angry. Which is what got me to the point during RAGBRAI where EVERYTHING pissed me off.

Multiple sclerosis

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Destination and duration: UNKNOWN

I set out on RAGBRAI last week with a known destination and set time frame for completion of my literal journey and at the same time continued on a metaphorical journey through grief. My dad's death preceded this mega-ride by two months and a week.

Typically I love RAGBRAI start to finish. I enjoy the challenge, fellow riders, towns, local folks welcoming us, the costumes and characters, the stories and silences. Even on a difficult day with hills or heat, rain or flat, regardless of the difficulty, I would find the "awesome" in my ride. Journeys and journey stories lend themselves to personal transformations and RAGBRAI has proved no different for me in the past.

It didn't seem to be working out for me at first. The first three days of RAGBRAI XXXIX were extraordinarily hot, humid and hilly. To top it off, I was completely unable to find any "awesome" in the ride for nearly three days running. I hated RAGBRAI, didn't understand why anyone would ever do something so ridiculous, purposeless or insane. I hated kybos (the ubiquitous portable outhouses that populate the route), I hated the hills, I hated it when people talked to me, I hated it when they didn't. I hated the food, the water. I hated being on my bike. I hated being off it. I was so angry about everything that I actually flipped off the sun.

By Tuesday afternoon of RAGBRAI we were in Pilot Mound. We had twelve miles to go that included a hill that had become legendary over the course of the day. Most of my energy had gone into being angry. The rest had gone into climbing the hills in 90+ degrees and what seemed like 100% humidity. My loving and caring husband who remained steadfast through 99.9999% of the ride (he got a little crabby once or twice!) made the executive decision that I was refusing to make. We would "sag" in for the last twelve miles that day. (Sagging means waiting for the SAG -- Support And Gear -- wagon to come around, pick up your bike and yourself for a ride to the next town. In this case, Boone, our overnight town.)

Shortly after we made it to Boone, found our team campsite, set up our tent, snagged the last couple of slices of pizza and a beer. I sat down and proceeded with my meltdown. It was upsetting to me that this thing I loved (RAGBRAI) had turned into this thing that I now hated. Something that was irritating me. Something that was causing me to complain about my ride instead of really truly being able to answer the question "how was your ride?" with an enthusiastic, "Awesome!"

I did what anyone would do in that situation... I called Mom. 

Tune in tomorrow for the continuing saga...

Resources: Journey of grief