Wednesday, December 31, 2008


the spin room at the jcc has those fabulous windows I've written about, huge and western facing, allowing me the views I so love. what I haven't written about is a repetitive phenomenon that I watch, at times, as I'm spinning away, my heart pounding and my legs wanting to do nothing more than slow down, slow way, way down, to a gentler, easier pace.
I first discovered this during power camp two years ago. we were doing some long and difficult practice that I have pushed outside my memory, and I was searching for a mental trick to ease the discomfort. I always sat so that I could look out the windows, but this time the relatively static tableau in front of me wasn't providing the necessary focal point to keep me from either screaming in frustration or quitting. until I discovered something that changed in a regular pattern, a consistent pattern, something I could probably even time and find to be completely, reliably predictable: a stoplight.
in the far left, lower corner of the southernmost window, my view of it partially hidden by the protective wall around the pool and a few stately pines, was the stoplight at the intersection of North Campus Drive and Mario Capecchi Drive (formerly Medical Drive, as it was named when I first glommed onto the stoplight trick). I discovered that the light changed from green, to yellow, to red, at regular intervals, and that I could trick my mind into letting my body work intensely for the time needed for a complete cycle of light colors, and then one more cycle, and then one more cycle . . .
it worked.
I could not do what I do if it weren't for little mental games.
red, to green, to yellow, and then repeat.
I have used this trick a number of times during the many classes I've taken in that room, and basically this is what I tell myself: I can make it through five more cycles, then this part of the drill will be over. four more, then I'm sure we'll be moving on to something else. okay, three more. yep, two, and I'm still okay. one to go . . .
and whether I was correct in my time approximation or not, I kept going. I didn't scream, quit, or fail.
what came to me this morning, however, was not the rhythm of the changing colors, nor the length of cycle time, but the pause between red and green. there is a significant pause there, when north-south traffic has a red, and east-west traffic does, as well. a pause, a gap, a time of no man's land, a time without movement.
this morning I thought of a term used in the UK, gap year: a time off between secondary education and higher learning, often used to travel or to otherwise gain non-classroom experience.
I've felt for quite a while that I've been living in a gap. that my life was sailing along, green light, work, work, kids, family, keep it all going, all the balls in the air, green, green, green.
and then came just a moment of yellow, and then a screaming red.
and now I am in the gap. the pause.
the green is coming, I can feel it itching to turn itself on, energy prickling and snapping in the background, ready to power those green bulbs. but the fixture still shows red. the pause, the gap.
for the stoplight, this gap, this no man's land, lasts just about 1.5 seconds. which can nonetheless feel interminable, when one is in a hurry to get somewhere.
for me, this gap is lasting quite a bit longer than 1.5 seconds. and it, at times, feels interminable, because yes, I am somewhat in a hurry to get somewhere.
but I suppose in the big scheme of things, when I look back upon my life from the vantage point of time and distance, I will realize that my gap was not quite so long, after all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

the power of suggestion

I have yoga on my mind today, it being tuesday.
yoga, and my hip flexors.
this all started a few months back, when one of my (new and non-miguel) yoga instructors mentioned that those of us who were cyclists or runners probably had tight hip flexors.
this was just a comment made in passing, as she described some position we were moving into, suggesting either that the position would be good for us or would be difficult for us, I'm not sure which. as I said, this was a while back.
what remained with me, however, was the suggestion that my hip flexors are tight.
I never used to think I had tight hip flexors, but over the past few months I have come to believe that I do.
in the past few weeks we've been doing some yoga poses that I find so difficult as to be nearly impossible, and guess what part of my body they involve?
those good old hip flexors.
so I did a little online research today, trying to understand exactly what causes this tightness, what muscles are actually involved (please don't ask me to repeat their names), and what can be done about it. what I read assured me that they can be loosened with stretches and exercise, thus I have a few new things to add to my routine.
you're probably curious about what yoga positions would challenge me, given this tightness, therefore the picture above: the one legged bridge pose. the issue for me is getting the left hip in this photo: mine only reaches about half the distance off the mat that hers does.
there are other poses in this family that highlight and emphasize my inflexibility, and I am perturbed by every single one of them.
have my hip flexors just been growing progressively tighter over the past couple years? or was I just not challenged with poses that exposed my already-tight hips? or have I simply developed something because I was told I probably had it?
now I know that latter case can't really be true. I do believe in mind over matter at times, but I'm also fairly confident that I didn't create this situation via mental suggestion.
I only use that tool for forward-progress, growth, moving in a healthy direction.
so perhaps I should combat my hip-flexor issue with not only stretches and exercises, but gentle suggestions to my body,
"my hips are loose and flexible, my hips are relaxed, I find myself easily in a one-legged bridge pose . . . "
I'll send good energy your way for relaxed hips if you'll do the same for me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

the lion

another poster in the spin room has this to say:
the thrill is not just in the winning, but in the courage to join the race.

the word "thrill" seems a little strong to me, but perhaps it's more accurate than I think. there is a little bubble of energy and excitement that comes with decisions that put us outside our comfort zones.
and I like the concept that it takes courage just to join the race: by accepting that, I give myself a mental pat on the back. which is something we all need to do from time to time.

I've discussed courage before, but it's one of those topics that comes around again and again, at least in my life. I'm not starting a pity party, and my intent is not to arouse sympathy; I simply need to acknowledge some facts. perhaps it's that "nearing the end of the year" evaluation and assessment time, or perhaps I'm feeling a little melancholy because we're in the holiday season which is full of expectations and encounters and --- to be honest --- no small amount of stress.

regardless, I am reflecting on the courage I've had to dredge up during my adult life. it seems like I've had to find a whole lot within myself. it doesn't always come quickly or easily, but it has come. at times I've dragged it in by its little toe, but it has come. at other times I have had to beg it into existence, stretching it into an enormous blanket and wrapping myself in it, attempting to cover every single centimeter of exposed skin. and it came.
I've accepted loss, I've made difficult decisions, I've stuck to my truth when it was abhorrently uncomfortable. I've walked away from good things because they weren't exactly what I needed. I've made myself vulnerable; I've stood firm when to move away would have been a thousand times easier. I've done a thousand things I didn't want to do, knowing that they would ultimately strengthen the me I am.
I've walked into rooms alone more times that I want to think about.
I've faced hateful things with little more than my own psyche to stick up for me.
I've given up things I loved because I know they belonged somewhere else.

God gave me a pretty good brain, and a huge heart. He gave me a great home. I didn't need to search for the things the scarecrow, the tin man, or dorothy had to. but apparently I was the lion, destined to find courage somewhere, somehow. I've had help along the way, but it's like so very many things in life: no one can do this for you.

I've pulled courage from deep down within myself, let it stand tall behind me, and joined the race. it doesn't always feel good, and sometimes it's outright painful. sometimes it causes great sadness, sometimes tears.
and yes, sometimes because I have found courage within myself, I get to experience that teeniest, little thrill.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


imagine, if you will, a narrow, twisting canyon road, barely two lanes wide. there may be bike lanes along the sides, but if there are, they are now covered with snow and lacy edges of ice. tall pines are visible on the slopes of either side, and the edges of the road are full of all sorts of growth that is now covered with inches to feet of thick white snow.
the road climbs gradually, at times a bit more steeply, and the snow-laden trees bend in toward the asphalt and the sky looks so very far away, the blue marred only by faint ribbons of white. it is a winter wonderland, the trees so heavy with snow that the image you see is like a black and white photo that has been tinted so that the black is a deep green; you see green and white, green and white, everywhere you turn.
you park, you strap on your snowshoes, and you head up a trail. you are far from the first up this trail: it is already snow-packed and wide enough for three to walk abreast. you walk on the edges of the trail, your snowshoes eager to do their job on the powdery surfaces. your feet are warm, your body begins to heat up with the exertion of the upward-climbing trail, and your cheeks burn lightly with the cold.
a first cabin peeks from between the trees on your left, and soon you have passed it, and also the next. they hunker down into their snow-covered foundations, and hold their walls tight to themselves as the snow sits on their railings and roofs. more cabins appear as you move along, and they disappear behind you as you climb, and climb. the trail ascends continually, but kindly, your heart just keeping a steady, working beat that sends small beads of sweat across your forehead and back. you remove your hat, and feel the pureness of the crisp air caressing your entire head.
a perfect cabin suddenly appears on your left: the stones of its foundation lovingly placed, the hewn boards laid in perfect pattern, its very design one of both beauty and function. snow sits heavily on the roof and gables, swooping down in graceful cornices, hanging over narrow sills. you pause to gaze upon this fairytale abode, and know deep in your soul that whoever built this home did so with great care and love.
when you move on, you notice again how tall and strong the trees that surround you are, their hundreds of branches and millions of needles holding armloads of snow, occasionally releasing small bundles that shower down upon you. the wind sends a small breeze across the treetops at a bend in the trail, and millions of particles of snow are thrown into the air thirty feet above your head and directly between you and the sun: they sparkle and glitter and dance in the air until they disappear from sight, becoming absorbed into new snow structures.
it is quiet save for the squeak of the snow beneath your shoes and the sound of your own breathing.
tens of thousands of trees stand resolutely, arms full of snow, feet implacably placed beneath the white ground. when the wind moves through their tops they whisper words of strength and hope, and certainty about the beauty of the future.
you sit for a while, allowing yourself to be absorbed into the environment, soaking in the richness of the scene spread before and around you. you inhale, and exhale. your breath floats in front of you for mere seconds, and you gratefully turn your face to the sun.
it is cold, the air is pure, the silence is deeper than the canyon is old, and the feeling that swirls around and through you in none other than that of absolute peace.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

walking on treetops

there are certain things you know when you're a kid, that you no longer know when you're a middle-aged adult.
for instance, how to get up from the snow angel you've just made without destroying the beautiful angel you've just made.
this afternoon, lying on the snow after making my snow angel, I realized that I no longer knew how to get up. so I lay there, the snow starting to penetrate my many protective layers, laughing at myself. laughing at how I'd managed to become so old, laughing at my ability to forget such a crucial thing.
the situation was complicated by the fact that I was wearing snowshoes. they added a unique design to the bottom of my angel's gown, and now they were adding to my consternation. how does one get up from a snow angel without ruining it? and how does one get up at all, with snowshoes bound to their boots?
when I finally stopped laughing and had had enough of the cold, I rolled one way and then the other, hoping to gain enough momentum to roll myself out of my beautiful creation.
no go.
I leaned to my right, tentatively pushing a knee into the snow to see how far it would sink if I put my body weight on it. it held, hardly denting into the slope at all, so I pushed myself onto that knee while turning and lifting my feet as high off the ground as I could, rolling off to the side. where I then stood, and looked at my beautiful angel. preserved pretty well, I thought, considering the situation.
which becomes even more humorous when you know the entire situation: my snow angel is (and soon will be "was," given that I believe it's snowing there right now) high on a hillside far above and east of little dell reservoir, where my tracks were the only human ones at all.

bill gave me snowshoes for Christmas: this is my first pair, and I am thrilled! I took them out for a test spin today, and of course I headed to the spot I love to ride. I parked by the gate at the far end of the reservoir, and headed onto the snow packed road. there were cross-country skiers and another showshoer, and --- to my dismay --- a few snowmobiles. (I'd never even considered the fact that snowmobiles might be allowed on the road now that the gate is closed: I always think of it as a "no motorized vehicles" season. alas. )
this was only my second time snowshoeing, ever, so I started out just walking along the road, not having a specific destination in mind. after 20 yards or so, some snowmobile tracks headed up the slope on the left side of the road. I thought I'd give that a try, and walked along those tracks for another 20 yards, when I saw some deer tracks taking off to the west. I decided to follow those for a while, and next thing I knew I was heading up the hill. and up. and up.
I started chuckling to myself about the same time the sweat began dripping off my forehead and into my eyes: what is it about me and hills? I can't not climb them!
I climbed and climbed, occasionally sinking into snow drifts and at times trekking along windswept spots of only a couple inches of snow blanketing the crushed grasses. there were wide open spaces of pristine snow, smooth and perfect. and then there were acres and acres of hillside covered with what looked to be smallish, dark brown-gray, sparse bushes. which, as I approached them, turned into the tops of scrub oak. I walked between the spindly branches sticking out of the snow, giggling to myself as I pictured their trunks and roots so very far below. I followed the deer tracks until they leapt over a ridge I wanted to climb up, then was on my own the rest of the way.
the only thing that saved me from my own determination was my late start and the slowly approaching dusk: I did not attempt the highest peak, telling myself I had to save something for next time.
and also, for next time: I plan to check in with a child beforehand, to be sure I know exactly how to remove my body from my snow angel after her creation is complete.

yes, I did

yes, I really did take 2 days off.
in a row.
I've even had thoughts of reducing my postings down to 6 a week instead of 7.
giving myself a day off every single week.
thoughts, I said.
if I actually follow through with that idea, I'd have to decide which day to take off: a busy day, to lighten the load, or a slower day, to give me a more complete break. and since at this point I can't seem to decide which would be better, I will keep posting every day.
sometimes indecision is a decision, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

one hour

I went to a spin class this morning, Christmas eve, and it was packed. full of lots of people like me who --- I think ---- just wanted to feel good about eating so much these next couple days.
according to my heart monitor, I worked off about 630 calories, but I have to tell you I almost died doing it. I didn't mean to, but I worked excessively, extremely, ridiculously hard. my heart rate hit a new high indoors, my legs wanted to give out, and my face took on a permanent flush. sweat was pouring off me, dripping onto the rubber mat beneath my spin bike. I watched little sweat drops forming on the back of my hand . . . knowing that's what my upper lip looked like. by the time class was done my towel was almost as wet as if it had just been through the wash.
SO, to make up for this, I had 6 pieces of fudge and about 6 cookies this evening. whew, I'd hate to let my calories expended get above my calories inhaled.
it was only an hour, but what an hour.
the good news is that I think I'll sleep extremely well tonight: I won't need to worry about visions of sugar plums keeping me awake.
merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

plumbing postscript

my sink no longer leaks.
and I did nothing else to fix it.

I'm humming the twilight zone theme song, can you hear it?

I'm tempted to leave it right there: finis. perfectus.

but of course I can't leave it there. obviously, there is more to the story. but the truth is, I don't know what the rest of the story is.

I replaced the part, I tightened everything up, and it leaked.
I tightened things a little more, and it still leaked.
I left it alone for a day,
and it stopped leaking.

now, I'm thinking it's possible that the little bit of goop (could it be plumber's putty? it seems like I've heard of something like that) I saw by the mouth of the pipe somehow attached itself to the part that needed a better seal . . .
I'm also thinking it's possible that something just went beautifully well in my universe.
that does happen occasionally.
like this morning in yoga.

we were doing mountain poses with a foot crossed over in front and above the opposite knee. then we bent forward, arms bent and hands in prayer pose by our hearts, squatting down and resting elbows on knees. more or less. and my balance was perfect.
I experienced that feeling that all of us who work hard at something live for: a feeling of joy that my work has resulted in an improvement. after 18 months of yoga and hundreds of weight room sessions spent balancing on a bosu ball, my balance has improved.
I was outwardly calm. I breathed. and inside, my little kid self was saying woo hoo!

it's nice when the universe gives you good experiences, those that make you feel cuddled and protected and as if you're part of life's flow.

Monday, December 22, 2008

the clothes we wear

this is obviously going to be on the lighthearted side, which is possibly a welcome relief for us all. no goopy sentimentality, and no preaching. whew.

I passed a man in the gym the other day, and this is what he was wearing:
beanie on head, dark brown leather dress jacket, navy blue warm-up pants with white stripes down the side, and cycling shoes. oh, and glasses.

this is what I wear to the gym: yoga pants (you know, those stretchy black things that aren't too tight and end well above one's ankles), sports bra, tank-style workout top, socks, tennies, my ipod in its green armband, and a light zip-front jacket.

this is what I see at the gym: everyone pretty darn comfortable in whatever they wear, be it tight capris or loose gym shorts, and old tee or a cycling jersey.

there's one couple who come work out together and both wear black bottoms and orange jackets.

some people wear bike shorts (which I have been known to do, when I hit the weight room after a spin class) and even bike shoes (which I would never do, because I can't stand to walk around in those things).

there is a noticeable lack of make-up in the facility. I love that.

most women have tame and pretty decent looking hair, however, which amazes me (at 6 in the morning, mind you) given the way I look when I wake up.

some men wear hats while they work out, and my question here is, doesn't their head get hot?? I don't think I'd like working out with a hat on my head. am I to extrapolate from this that men are more embarrassed about morning-bed-hair than us women? or are they just less capable of making it look decent without a real shower? thoughts to ponder.

there are a lot of funny-looking tennis shoes (trainers would perhaps be a better word, if I may borrow that from the brits) out there.

I am the only one I've ever seen there with a bright green ipod armband. hmmm.

I rarely notice anyone's socks. perhaps I should pay more attention.

and by the way, I am still wearing a good portion of what I wore to work out in, let's see, about 13 hours ago . . .
I'm off to the shower!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


the spin room at the jcc has a few new posters on its walls, and they all mention the word pain.
I find this interesting.
there's the lance armstrong quote:
"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever."
well, I think this statement has come back to bite him in the butt: obviously his version of quitting does not last forever.
and then there's a quote from frank schleck:

"Pain is worth it. You have to go as hard as you can, for as long as you can."

obviously, these two elite professional athletes have endured a great deal of pain in their lives. both having to do with training and not, and also, both physical pain, and not.
we all get significant doses of pain administered to us throughout our lifetimes: that's just the way life seems to work.
but the self-chosen pain of physical activity is a fascinating thing to think about. what is it about us humans that drives us to push ourselves so far, so hard? there are endurance races out there where people run 100 miles on trails, and mountain bike rides that last 24 hours. we choose to push ourselves to exhaustion, and then beyond . . . why do we do this?
I can feel pain during an hour-long spin class. I can feel pain during a simple yoga class. I can even feel pain during a set of reps in the weight room.
I feel it, I bear it, I mentally steel myself to survive it, and then I come out the other side.
I endure.
and for some reason, I like this process.
I know it is making me stronger, and I am almost more interested in the mental strength than the physical strength. I view physical strength as a nice thing, pleasing to my self-image, part of my "growing old gracefully" plan. but the mental strength is the fulcrum upon which the rest of my life balances. if I can accept the difficulties, the challenges, the sorrow and pain, knowing that I can bear them, outlive them, survive them, then I have won. I have tested myself, pushed my boundaries past the level of resistance I thought I had, and I have proven my own potency.
today's pain came during a couple standing sprints, and then on a long hill climb, and again on some circuits. I push myself because I know I can do it. I accept the pain because I know each time I do, I become a more patient, tolerant, accepting person.
I'm not a sprinter, a racer, a fastest-to-the-top person.
I am deep and determined, and in it for the long haul.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

mastery, humility, truth

I could have not said anything.
I could have left it alone, let you continue to think that I had mastered plumbing 101.
but that would create a lie, a lie of omission, something my girls have been learning about this year.

yes, my sink drain pipe is (and I am debating how to phrase this): either leaking again, or still leaking. the former seems more accurate, but then again, so does the latter. regardless, I have an issue.
and I'm hoping it's just that I need some of that plumber's tape stuff. I haven't yet done my research on the internet, so I'm not really sure, but I'm thinking that has to be the problem. pull the slip joint back off, wrap a little tape around the end of the pipe, then tighten the joint back together: presto! I'll be back in business!
I hope.

this is how I deal with cycling issues as well. I learn so much better by doing: I am just not as adept at applying what I've only read about, or (worse) what I've only heard. I need to do. and I don't need to always do it right the first time, although that would be lovely. to do it, then do it over, then perhaps even do it a third time, is all okay with me, as long as I make progress each time. the "P" word is creeping up on me: practice, practice, practice.
for instance, I am much more efficient at degreasing and lubing my bike now than I was a year ago. at this point, I know what I'm doing, I have an understanding of why I'm doing it, and I have not only the tools but a systematic way of approaching it. these all converge to simplify the task and make it bearable.
and the flat tire thing: each time I get a flat and have to deal with it, I get a little bit better. better at the physical job of fixing it, better at understanding why it happened, and better at handling the trauma and drama associated with it.

the mature part of me is grateful for all of these experiences, knowing that they are strengthening me, making me more capable and compassionate at the same time. these events give me opportunity to stand on my own, be the effective, efficient person I am at my core.

the rest of me, however, still wishes someone else would just fix the darn thing for me, so I don't have to spend more time making stupid mistakes and being frustrated.

with a towel on the floor catching the drips.

Friday, December 19, 2008


today I fixed a leaking pipe underneath my bathroom sink.
it was a long process---I think my daughters first noticed the leak about 8 days ago---but it is now complete.
and I feel darn good about it.
because it was a process, and I worked my way through it. I didn't give up, though I certainly wanted to, and I made it out the other side.
this is how it went:

mom, the bathroom sink is leaking.
underneath, you know, onto the wood container that sits under the sink.
oh, crud. sigh.
I go in, and I see the neat pile of toilet paper the girls have put on the floor after moving the container aside. it's wet alright.
I inspect the pipe, and the drip is coming off the bottom of the u-shaped pipe (the trap, I learned). there is no hole in the pipe, and the whole darn thing is wet, so I have no idea where the leak is coming from. I sigh again, leave the toilet paper on the floor and put everything I can find from the bathroom counter into the sink: hand towels, (unplugged) hairdryer, brushes, anything nearby so that my kids will get the idea not to use the sink.
I think about calling the plumber.
I wish the sink weren't leaking.
I go to bed.
the next day I replace the toilet paper with a bowl, after testing the sink to make sure it's still leaking. no magical solutions during the night, no plumbing fairy visits.
I google "bathroom sink leak repair," and find diagrams that match what my plumbing looks like, and still have no clue what's wrong, but feel that it's possible I may be able to fix it.
after the sink has been dry a while, I check the pipe again, and this time, determine where the water is leaking from: the joint at the top of the trap in the back, where it looks like the rubber washer has hardened and split.
I may be able to fix this.
I ignore the issue for a couple days while I deal with work, kids, Christmas, stuff, life.
I wish I were the kind of person who never had to deal with leaking bathroom pipes. who either had a husband to do that, or who had oodles of money so they didn't think twice about calling the plumber to come fix it.
I realize I am neither of those people.
I try to find a tool to loosen the joints so I can see exactly what's wrong with that washer, and plan my trip to the hardware store.
I don't have a tool that will do it.
I call my kids' dad, and ask if I can borrow such a tool.
when he brings the kids home that evening, he brings me an entire tool box.
I take the tool he has suggested I use into the bathroom, where it sits on the floor by the bowl that holds the water drips. for 5 days.
I finally try taking the thing apart, getting myself disgustingly dirty and scraping the palm of my hand, splattering gross sink-drain pipe water on the floor.
I get it apart, and realize that it's the joint itself that has split.
I take the trap AND the pipe attached to it off---minor struggle involved---and put them in a bag to take to the hardware store with me so I get the right replacement part the first time.
the guy at Ace finds me the exact $1.99 slip joint I need, and I make my purchase.
I come home, and

in text lingo: OMG. I did it.

and now I tell myself, it wasn't so bad.

I have mastered another skill.

and what, pray tell, does this have to do with cycling, you ask? ah, it's all about mastery. about getting better at something. about competence and confidence. about moving along the continuum from "don't know what I'm doing" toward "have sense of mastery."
we humans crave this movement, whether we acknowledge that craving or not; I will go so far as to say it's in our DNA. we are meant to grow and learn, to challenge ourselves, fail, and succeed.
today, my bathroom sink.
tomorrow . . .

Thursday, December 18, 2008

life uncommon

heard on my ipod this morning:

And lend your voices only
To sounds of freedom
No longer lend your strength
To that which you wish
To be free from
Fill your lives
With love and bravery
And you shall lead
A life uncommon

life uncommon, by Jewel, a very uncommon person herself.
what a great anthem, what a powerful way to face the world.
that's all I have to say today, for anything else I might add would only serve to diffuse her message.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

what it's all about

a friend said to me today, I think I'm pretty selfish, I think mostly of me. I should be thinking more outward. maybe on a friday I should go help at the homeless shelter, instead of heading to alta to ski. maybe it should be more about other people and less about me.

the other night I received the best gift of the season, and it will warm my heart for I don't know how long:

one of the people my kids do this "secret elf" 12-days of Christmas thing for is a man who lives a few doors up the street, an older man who lives by himself. two nights ago he left a card and a wrapped present sitting by his door, waiting for my kids, the envelope addressed to "my secret elves."
the present was a box of our favorite yummy cookies (those pirouline, long skinny wafer tubes filled with heavenly stuff inside), which we will lovingly devour. but the card was my gift of the season, for on it he wrote,
I can't tell you how much it has meant to me, to be included in your holiday season.

life needs balance, and skiing is a vital part of my friend's life. it provides exercise and--more importantly--stress relief for him. but if he knew what it felt like to receive the kind of a gift I received from that card, he might choose to ski a lot less this season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

relax your gaze

tuesday, yoga day.
I walked into the building with just a spattering of huge white flakes making their way down from the dark sky.
I walked out to 2 inches of snow on the ground, on my car, sticking to my felt boots.
and it just kept coming, and coming, and sticking, billions of crystals packing themselves into each others space and forming an even, thick carpet across my world.

I am still resisting my new yoga teacher, but only by centimeters now, no longer by the inches and feet of the past. I miss miguel, I miss that workout, but I am teaching myself to accept what is and embrace it, for one never knows the hidden benefit of doing so until one does so.
we breathe in yoga, we stretch and gently push, we align and square hips and drop shoulders and lean into poses. at times my muscles quiver, then shake, and I occasionally lose my balance. then I inhale, reposition myself, exhale, and begin again.
we are often guided to relax our gaze. now, I don't really know what this means. I don't think this is a skill we learn growing up, like tossing a ball or shaking hands or even standing on one foot. I interpret it to mean this: relax your eyelids, expand the possibility of your peripheral vision, and look past whatever may be in front of you. it is the opposite of staring, it is letting your vision just be without challenging it to feed you information.
today is a day of relaxing my gaze.
I am sad that snow covers my world and my bike is relegated to the back corner of the cold, wet garage. I am sad that I am leaving the experiences of my summer and fall behind, that they are now in the "history" pile of my memory bank. I am sad that I keep shoveling the snow away, and then more comes and covers the path I have worked so hard to uncover. I am sad that things are shifting and changing and the world seems terribly unsettled.
but focusing on any of those things does me no good. therefore, if I just look past these things, let them float in my peripheral vision, I can perhaps keep moving forward. one shovelful at a time. with a relaxed gaze, a gaze that welcomes whatever might be in my world.
I guess I'll give it a try.

Monday, December 15, 2008

the beautiful flock of birds

this morning it was by far too cold, snowy, icy and bitter outside for riding, which meant I headed to the jcc for a dreary, indoor, windowless workout.
I did my requisite minutes on the elliptical, then my session on the mat, followed with the standard free weight and machine stuff. I waved goodbye to my friends who started before me and thus were released into their day ahead of me. I even chatted with nick about skiing at alta (he is constantly after me to join him there), disengaging from my ipod earphones to participate in the conversation.
I was on my final sets of arm something-or-others when my power-camp buddies started trickling into the room for their weight-room after spin-room workouts. I nodded, smiled, said hello without removing my earphones, and have never felt so distant from them as I did this morning.
I am one of many loners in the weight room---very few come in twos or threes---but this morning I felt even further removed.

my friend kathryn described my way of being as this: one who is different, who walks their own path. who looks at everyone else and sometimes wishes to be part of that beautiful flock of birds, but who knows it's not right for them. one who stands out in the crowd just by being who she is, her natural self.
please understand me, I am not saying this is better. this is just different.
I am an outlier.
I have walked this solitary path for so long that I know nothing else. in addition, I don't know how it feels to be anyone else, and as such, it's impossible to know anyone else's experience. but what I do know is that I am most comfortable gazing at that flock, not being in the midst of it. you may say, everyone feels this way, but it's deeper than a self-consciousness, a shyness. it's a knowingness. knowing that I think a little differently, I operate a little differently.

my daughter showed me a picture today that she took on the way home from school (amazing things, those cell phones with cameras). it is of a bird, a magpie, that was injured, hobbling along the sidewalk, allowing her to stroke its wings before hopping away.

and perhaps this, coupled with my morning experience, is what made me think of kathryn's flock of birds comment. I have no beautiful tie-in here, no metaphor that will connect my musing and make a neat package.

it's just a day to be an outlier, for me, and for the grounded magpie.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

pool rules

we are in a winter wonderland today: fresh, clean, powdery snow coating every surface but slowly melting under the sun-filled blue skies which have just opened up in the past hour or so.
not too long ago I sat on my spin bike in my favorite spin room, watching the city brighten up as the clouds slowly split apart and revealed the blue beyond. this was my first daylight spin class in so long I can't even remember, and I rediscovered how much I enjoy the view, especially on a day like today.
there are a few narrow trees which reach high up the left window panes, and I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed watching them change throughout the seasons, from bare limbs to buds to full blown leaves. today the branches are a beautiful purplish gray, reaching tall, spotted with teeny buds and sprinkled heavily with snow.
the pool, below and just west of the spin room, is in its hibernation stage: dormant, quiet, barren. but the "pool policies" sign remains, and this morning I thought that if only my eyesight were good enough, I could read all of the rules.
my next thought was that I probably know all of the rules, which led me to think about how many of us know the pool rules by heart . . . my guess is that you could list a handful of them easily and immediately, without putting much thought at all into it. haven't we all grown up with pool rules?
the first public pool I remember spending time at was in Potawatomi Park, in south bend, indiana. rock music blared, and kids swam and dunked each other and flirted and lay out in the hot humidity for hours on end. I will always connect Three Dog Night's "shambala" with that swimming pool, just as I will always link joy, freedom, and heaven with that same environment.
and the rules?
these are what I know by heart:
shower before entering pool
no running
no horseplay
no jumping or diving except from diving board
no swimming when lifeguards are not present
no glass containers
no alcohol
no diapers

how did I do? the jcc has many more rules for their pool, of course, as most places probably do these days: liability must be limited somehow, mustn't it?
regardless, thinking about swimming pool rules brought back great memories of long, lazy days spent with friends, thinking about nothing greater than whether or not to apply more suntan lotion, how long I could lie there without sweating to death, and whether or not it was time to go buy a popsicle from the snack bar.
which are fun thoughts to have hanging out in my mind as I spin away on an indoor bike while watching the stunningly beautiful snow settle in for the winter.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

on temperature

I have a very narrow comfort range, say from about 68 to 78 degrees. this is where I am happiest, and sometimes 68 is a little chilly and 78 is a little too warm. inside, I mean.
outside is another thing. there I can expand my range from say, 52 to about 84.
I am laughing, because these numbers are ridiculous, given that I live in a high desert that consistently receives oodles of the greatest snow on earth. and given that I like to ride my bike as daily as possible.
the lesson to be learned from this is that I spend a lot of time pushing well beyond my comfort limits.
take last night, for example. bill's daughter is a ski jumper, an amazingly talented, gifted, and driven young woman of a mere 14 years. she is already on the US ski team, and was participating in a competition yesterday with jumpers from around the world. I went to watch the event, my first experience of watching ski jumping live and in person.
do I need to say these events take place outdoors?
probably not.
it was one of those perfect winter evenings: just a few clouds in the sky, the air so sharp and clear you feel it must be purifying your body each time you inhale, a full moon---the largest in 50 years I am told---hanging low in the eastern sky, and snow underfoot. oh, and the temperature was perhaps 30 degrees or so.
I know I'm spoiled, and that much of the world has to deal with temperatures well below that on a regular basis, but guess what? I am soft and enjoy being pampered, not being made uncomfortable.
I wore my huge sorrels, my warmest coat, gloves, hat, and still got cold. really cold. freezing. so frozen inside that my legs began quaking and wouldn't stop. I moved from foot to foot, trying to keep my muscles working enough to create a little blood flow to warm my body.
but I was just flat out cold.
glad to be there, eager to watch the event, but by the end, frozen.
and it reminded me of why skiing was never on the top of my list of things to do: I was always cold. always. my dad once gave me a little knit "nose warmer": a pyramid-shaped thing with a tassle on the end, with 2 straps to tie around the back of your head. gee, right dad, I think I'll wear that when I go skiing with my friends today . . .
there really isn't much of a point to this discussion, other than to say I'm a wimp when it comes to low temperatures.
the good news is that sarah jumped beautifully, and it was truly incredible to be in the company of these elite athletes from across the world and most importantly, park city.
even if my legs shook.
even if my frozen nose was bright red.
even if I was a good 20 degrees outside my comfort zone.

Friday, December 12, 2008

stars upon thars

oh, the things I don't know.
billions of facts, millions of pieces of data, hundreds of thousands of statistics, thousands of ideas and concepts and reasons why . . . what I don't know could fill volumes and oceans.
and I am a curious person, asking questions and seeking out answers, and even remembering a few of these things; yet still, I am ignorant of so much.

my latest "why" question is about the new telephone (and power) phones they're installing along my bike route. in fact, I just googled "telephone pole" and found that the PC word for them is "utility pole," and that they are usually owned by one utility company that then leases space to others. since all of the trucks I've seen working with these new poles belong to power companies, I will assume that our power company owns the poles.
it's been a fascinating thing to watch over the past couple weeks. I started out having no idea what was going on, then picked up on a few clues as I rode along, subtle things like those huge orange signs in the bike lane that shout "utility work ahead," and guys in flannel shirts, down vests and hard hats walking from truck to truck. I saw a guy climbing up a steep hillside, belt of tools strapped around his waist, heading toward a pole a good distance away. but my favorite clue were the long, dark wood poles lying along the side of the road. one, then half a mile up the road, three. then another one, and then a couple more. this is when it all clicked together and formed the belief that they were going to be putting up new utility poles.
the poles were dark with a protective coating, looking strong and resilient as compared to those already implanted in the ground, standing tall but pale and weathered, holding myriad wires and cables stretching for miles and miles.
those reposing poles made me happy.
go figure.
and maybe this is why: at the end of one of the poles, the flat "bottom" if you will, I noticed a star-shaped metal decoration. it was an outline of a 5-pointed star, looking like a cookie cutter that had been pushed into the circular section of wood. how beautiful! and what the heck was that all about?
I thought perhaps it was just one special pole, and became determined to then check out all the bottoms of the rest of the poles I rode past.
they all had stars.
stars on thars.
which led me to thinking about dr. seuss, and his story about the sneetches. which if you don't know or remember, you really should re-visit. it is a story about star-bellied sneetches and those without stars, and how we aspire to have what we don't because of envy, or how we cling to our exclusivity due to prejudice. some sneetches have bellies which are star-less, and some have stars upon thars . . .
I do know why sneetches have stars (one of the millions of things I do know), but I don't know why utility poles have beautiful metal stars upon their bottoms.
and if someone would please tell me why, I could remove this pesky little item from my intensely long and varied list of things I do not know.
and if no one ever tells me why, I will still hold on to the memory of these long, beautiful poles, lying on the ground, showing off their pretty stars. and I will remain extremely pleased that those poles had stars upon thars.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

the gate

I love being in the right place at the right time.
I also love rituals, traditions, celebrations of events, and symbols.
and this afternoon, these two came together for me in a way that put a huge grin on my face that has gone so deep inside it's still with me.

at 12:45 I went for a ride. the predicted high today (41 degrees) had been reached, and I figured it was time to get going. I debated whether or not to head up emigration, unsure of what the bike lanes looked like after last monday's snow. yes, go where I love; no, be safe and head out south; yes, avoid stop lights; no, deal with traffic . . . I chose the correct path today, and headed up the canyon.
for the first time I can remember, there were no golfers on the bonneville golf course. instead, an uneven white blanket sat atop the still green grass. I grinned in amazement, and was thankful the roads were clear. once I started up the canyon, the bike lanes played a game of hide-and-seek, at times dry and wide and other times so full of ice and snow that they were nonexistent. a handful of hearty cyclists were thinking as I was, braving the cold to feel the joy of riding in the sun before the next storm hits.
I decided to ride to the gate at the bottom of the road up Big Mountain, wondering if it had been shut and locked yet after monday's huge snow. as I approached the gate, I saw a truck with flashing lights pulled to the side, and a man walking toward the gate. wondering if he was going to close it right in front me, I rode toward him with a flutter in my chest.
he looked at me, and called out to me, are you heading up and over?
I replied, no, I'm just going up a little ways.
he then said, oh, 'cause we're closing the gate here at 3 pm.

and now, the gate is closed.

which is probably much more significant to motorists and cross country skiers than it is to us cyclists. we non-motorists can just walk around the gate, and we cyclists can keep on riding until the snow stops us. which is when the cross country skiers can start having their fun.

but it's about the event itself, the actual closing of the gate. it is a changing of the season, an acknowledgement that what was, no longer is. I wanted to be there at 3 to witness this symbolic event, but I had to settle for being one of the last few cyclists to ride freely past the open gate.

my part of the world has shifted just a tiny bit more toward winter, and away from the bike.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


tomorrow is my last hope for an outdoor ride for a while, I fear. the weather channel is predicting stormy weather (that makes me want to sing "stormy weather" like ella fitzgerald) for five days beginning this friday. tomorrow, thursday, the predicted high is only 43, but that's the best looking day for a while.
and I've got this new itch, the number 9000.
yep, I am now a mere 158 miles from reaching this new milestone, and I am practically covered in a rash about it. I keep calculating the possibility of achieving this before the year's end, and with the current weather prediction I'm not feeling terribly hopeful.
even thinking about riding tomorrow is difficult, as a lot of bike lanes are full of snow and ice, especially if I am to ride somewhere I'd like to be riding. if I headed out west I could probably find some dry bike lanes, but I might also find myself frustrated by stop lights and traffic. I'm not that desperate to hit that milepost.
or am I?
158 miles is about 10 hours or so on my bike, which doesn't seem too unreasonable an accomplishment in the next 20 days, does it? last week was the first week I have ridden less than 100 miles since last spring. I'm renewing all of my weight-room/gym acquaintences, and as much as I enjoy that comraderie, there is just a little tinge of melancholy in my greetings. this will be my 2nd winter of elliptical and weight machines, free weights, exercise balls, bosu balance balls, and mats with my bright green ipod blaring through my earphones.
one thing I've noticed is that I'm more current with world issues when I hit the elliptical machine, as that's a good 20 minutes or so that I can read the closed-captioned news. when I'm out on my bike I am blissfully unaware of current scandals, market collapses, and negative health news.
as a matter of fact, I will end on this note: this morning I "read" on the television that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. and that 40 percent less single men go in for screenings than do married men (gee, I bet we can all understand that statistic!).
so my message to you all today is, get that screening on a regular basis, guys.
and I will pray for enough sunshine tomorrow to get out on my real bike and lower that 158 down a couple notches.
and if that doesn't happen, I'll just have more closed-captioned news to share with you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I love this word: loft.
like so many of our wacky english words, it has more meanings than I'm sure it knows what to do with. and although I love lofts in houses and the dense feeling of woolen yarn, the meaning I want to play with here and now is this:

to propel through the air or into space.

not exactly a road biking term, at least not a term to use for the kind of road biking I prefer. I have definitely experienced moments of loft while cycling, but I am hoping not to repeat them.
thoughts of loft, however, came to me the other day while I was biking. as thoughts so often do, the notion of "loft" just suddenly appeared in my mind. it might have had something to do with the clouds billowing above the mountains, or not. loft was just, out of the blue, in my consciousness.

and this is why loft is on my favorite words list:
it is light and carefree, it floats.
it is full of joy.
it is untethered and boundless.
it didn't get there by itself: it had help.

I thought about throwing a "loft" party: I would invite everyone who has helped me to be who and where I am today. of course not everyone, as that would entail searching out every person I have ever encountered, which is not terribly realistic, nor would such a huge number of people fit in my home.
but I would invite the friends who have stuck with me through the difficulties, and the friends who have caused me heartache. I would invite my mom, who has been everything from my crutch to my therapist to my friend to (at times) my hospital gurney. I would invite my dads, who all love me and have given me loft in their own unique ways. I would invite bob, to whom I was married for 16 years. I would invite all the boys and men I've ever loved. I would invite every family member I am even remotely related to. I would invite my kids, my past employers, my neighbors, and the teachers who believed I was an asset in class. and the teachers who didn't think I was an asset. I would invite my biking buddies, and my yoga friends, especially the ones who breathe and bend and stretch better than I. I would invite my cello teachers and piano teachers and liz, who this past summer helped me find the susan who is thrilled and inspired by color and shape and design. I would invite my writing group, I would invite everyone I've ever met through the isis sanctuary, where I have learned to open myself up to new experiences. I would invite my business partner connie, who has put up with my ever-evolving self for all these years, I would invite my other connie who helped me sell my house. I would invite bill, who has ridden all over the state with me, fixed my doors, and talked with me for hundreds of hours. I would invite the unhappiest people I know. I would invite every child in the world, and I would give them all cookies.
I would invite everyone who has ever sent a smile out into the world, because I know that somehow those smiles have moved from person to person to person and have, in ways I'll never be able to document, impacted my own little life.

Monday, December 8, 2008

live bravely

it is snowing like mad outside, and I am feeling
a: glad I went on the rides I did this past weekend, and
b: glad I can't ride today.

it's so gorgeous out there!
bill rode with me on saturday, and shared this great thought: I'm happy if it snows, and I'm happy if it doesn't. if it snows, he can ski, if it doesn't, he can ride his bike. what he called a win-win.
and of course it goes much deeper than that: it's an outlook of whatever happens, I'm going to be okay with it, and even happy about it.
this may not necessarily make bill a better person, but it certainly makes him more content than a great many of us.

this morning while listening to my ipod, I heard a song by Jewel that I haven't heard in a very long time, and one particular phrase stuck with me: I want to live life bravely. what does this mean? I can't know exactly what she meant, but I can build my own interpretation here.
to me, to live life bravely means to be exactly who God (or whomever) made us to be. to accept the imperfections and funny parts and embrace fully our humanness. to do what makes our hearts sing, to honor our commitments, to be compassionate and filled with empathy. to lend a hand and accept a hand.
to step blithely around fear, and keep heading in the direction our feet want to take us in. to give up embarrassment and shame and a sense of lack. to sometimes wait patiently. to sometimes throw caution to the wind and reach out for what it is we want. to accept setbacks, to always learn, but to never give up.
to walk a winding path, to charge straight up the hill. to experience free-fall, and to slide down with a rope between our hands and knees.
to accept what comes our way.
to mold our corner of the world.
to radiate joy.
and peace.
and to hold high your head no matter what.
to live a life bravely.
this has got to be another win-win.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

inner beauty

don't laugh.
a few weeks ago I read an article in Oprah magazine about inner beauty. it actually was a self-test, to tell you where you ranked as far as your own inner beauty.
it was a pretty telling test, and I was only a little surprised that I came out pretty well.
and I've decided this is my path for the rest of my life: my focus from now on will be on my inner beauty. if I can be genuine and happy and have an inner knowing that my core is beautiful, I will shine on the outside in a way that can't be dimmed by anyone's opinions (mine included) of what I look like.
so this is who I am from now on.

I still have an issue with my thighs.

I'm sure it began somewhere around the time when that first schoolmate told me I shouldn't be wearing the stretch pants I was because they made me look fat. (that was sally oppenheimer, 5th grade.) and it intensified the first time someone called me thunder thighs. (can't remember who, and I'm guessing 7th grade.)
and even now, when I know that my body operates like a well-oiled machine, full of strength and health, I still regret my thick thighs. I still want to be like all the other slender women out there who wear jeans and actually have extra fabric there below their butts. I want to be able to buy pants without having to try 20 pair on before finding a pair that (semi) fits and looks (semi) okay. I want to watch my shadow when I'm cycling and not constantly be judging whether or not my thighs are of grossly abnormal size, or just slightly abnormal size. today the decision moved back and forth as I changed direction: certain shadows showed a normal looking, slightly curvaceous body, while other silhouettes depicted thighs that looked like they belonged on an olympic speed skater.
I heard a statistic the other day that stated 85 percent of american women are unhappy with their bodies. which they went on to tie into the fact that the media/advertising world put these gorgeous women with perfect teeth, hair and bodies out there, everywhere, for us to compare ourselves with. and I know I do. it's hard to be surrounded by beauty and not want to be a part of it all.

so, my psyche has informed me that in an effort to keep my mental health in line, we will now be focusing on that inner beauty thing. we will be confident and capable, happy with who we are, filled with inner peace and joy, and this will radiate out so that the world will notice this aspect.

not the thighs.

this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine . . .

Saturday, December 6, 2008

thanks, bike

I love my bike again.
and to explain why, I have to take you with me on a journey.
if only I could make this audible, I would say close your eyes, and listen to my voice, and imagine if you will everything that I'm describing, and see it in your own mind's eye . . .

it is a beautiful day, sunlight pouring over the entire valley, not a cloud to be seen anywhere. the air is clear and crisp, the temperature slowly creeping up toward the mid-forties. frost is melting from lawns and rooftops, and birds are sharing their enthusiasm for the day with calls and song. the sky is achingly blue, and you are grateful for every layer of clothing you have on because the sunshine is brilliantly deceptive on this first saturday of december.
water bottles full and in their cages, a snack in your jersey's back pocket, you pedal away from your warm home and head to the northeast, toward emigration canyon which you haven't visited in days. the wind blows gently but chillingly from the north, and when you turn up the canyon you are thrilled with the calm air and the sun that warms up your fingers.
your legs feel strong as you pedal up the gradually rising road, and the rotating movement is familiar and comforting, your cadence perfectly in rhythm with the mood of the day: flowing, appreciative, content. it's a stress free day, a day to accept what is, and to wallow in the luxury of not having to be anywhere but where you are.
passing cyclists wave or don't wave, and you don't care one way or the other, casually flipping your hand in acknowledgment of their passing.
winding through the canyon you move through sections of shadow when the sun is deep behind the hills to the south, when the shivers move through your arms and legs and you question your decision to wear fingerless gloves. but as you move back into the sunlight, your legs pump and your heart pumps as well and you are soon warm, your core radiating heat that reaches almost to the tips of your fingers and toes. sweat begins to trickle down the hollow of your back. at times the wind is nonexistent and it feels almost balmy, and you unzip your jacket to let the cool air reach your chest and stomach.
snow has dusted and clung to the hillside and the shadowy sections of road, and you occasionally see narrow tire tracks across the snow covering the bike lane. brave souls, you think to yourself as you skirt the white coating and ride out in the road itself.
from the little mountain summit you see miles and miles of late fall scenery: dry and barren trees that look like thin gray soldiers actively protecting the slopes, thirteen shades of golden brown carpeting the hillside, snow-brushed mountain peaks in the distance, and the shimmering surface of the reservoir where the southern banks are decorated with a ribbon of snow.
you ride down to the water and on, to the still-open gate that heralds the entrance to east canyon, and on toward big mountain, for that is the goal you've set for yourself today. it is a first: you've never ridden up big mountain in december, and you are eager for both the experience and the accomplishment.
a cyclist coming down the mountain passes you, and after waving to him you open your eyes wide in astonishment because he is wearing only shorts on his legs, and you can't imagine that he could be anything other than absolutely freezing. you give a quick shudder and are again grateful for your full tights, wool socks, thick jersey, jacket and headband.
there is snow at the edge of the road now, perhaps a couple inches, and this fuels you. occasional clumps of slushy snow sit by the white line where you ride and you are tempted to run them over, giving in to the temptation a time or two and relishing the wet squishing sound you create. the snow doesn't slip over the edge into the road until a few miles up, near the first switchback. the road curves and the bending walls of the hills protect this section from sunshine, and you're forced to ride in one of the strips where car tires have worn the snow and ice away. inside you are thrilled by this, knowing how rarely you are given such an opportunity.
as the road opens up again the snow and ice have dispersed and you can focus again on the scenery, the pines and rock formations and above it all, the sky, which has deepened another shade as you've climbed higher into it.
soon another portion of road is covered with melting ice and snow, ridges of frozen slush delineating tire-width tracks on the asphalt. you are challenged to determine the best of the four narrow lines in which to ride, and as the two uphill-climbing tracks are icy, you move to the downhill tracks and hope that you will be able to see an oncoming car before it reaches you. a slushy ridge proves too big a stumbling block and you slip, un-clipping in time to stop a fall, but you can't recover enough momentum while trying to stay in the 10-inch wide track to pedal and clip back in. you half pedal-half walk your bike through the remaining treacherous yards, then regain your seat and continue up the last kilometer or so.
your heart races with the climb and with the thrill of the experience, and during the last 500 meters you again find yourself tempted to ride through the edge of the snow that creeps over the white line, the slushy melting edge of it. so you do. you smile inwardly, and this spreads itself out to your face because you feel like a little kid. a happy little kid.
and when you reach the summit, you are victorious is so very many ways on this incredibly sunny, beautiful day. you sit for a brief time on the bench that faces the south west, looking out upon the deep valley you've just climbed and ridge after ridge of mountain lines in the distance.
there is a family having a snowball fight, their giggles and shouts filling up the well deep within your soul.
you are at peace, and you have deepened, once again, your gratitude for your bike, without which you would never have had this exact experience.

thanks, bike.

Friday, December 5, 2008


first, I did not go out in the cold and ride my bike today. again, I saw many heartier-than-I cyclists doing that very thing, and all I felt was, ah, they are tougher than me. soon I will sound like a broken record, but I'm hoping to get out there tomorrow . . .

second, I will now move on to the more important thing, my emotional experience of the day.

this week I've written about gratitude, and about the Christmas spirit, and the two of these collided within me today and created a wonderful, physical reaction, just like what I thought I should be experiencing the other night.
yea! I'm not the in-my-head, intellectual, cold fish I feared I was . . .

this is what happened:
I am working on my many Christmas projects, from "secret elf" to the family and friends list to teacher gifts, as I like to be at least a teeny bit ahead of the game. I needed a few supplies, so I drove down into town and visited two stores. quickly. I like to get there early in the day and get in and out before chaos (and long lines) set in. I was successful, and hopped back into my car feeling pretty good about it all.
on my way home, a wave of gratitude just washed through me, literally, and my entire chest just warmed and glowed. well, that's what it felt like, anyway. with that came the thought, I am so grateful that I'm able to do this.
and what is "this?"
my silly little presents, those small tokens of appreciation and friendship and acknowledgment. they are small; they aren't expensive. they are here and gone; they are not treasures to be displayed for years. but they mean something to me. they bring me such great joy to give that I can't even explain it. bottles of soap and small tins of cookies and a roll of scotch tape. wrapped and tied and turned into gifts from our hearts.
and the other part of "this" is that I have a car (with gas in it), I have the time, and I have enough disposable income that I can do this.
I love giving my little presents; I love the fact that I might just be brightening some else's day.
because each time I give even a little something, it brightens my day like every cloud has left the sky and the sun is shining down, everywhere, casting a yellow-gold glow over the entire world.

third, I wish you all the very same brightening.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas spirit

it's 41 degrees outside, and a few hardy cyclists are out there in the rain-sleet-sunshine-snow-confused day that we're having. but not me. I'm having my THIRD IN A ROW day off the bike. difficult to imagine, isn't it? I'm hopeful that tomorrow will bring me a day in which I wish to ride my bike and the weather wishes to cooperate with me. I'm feeling like it will happen.
but today has been sprinkled with a little Christmas spirit around here. and I have quite enjoyed it.

for the past 12 years or so, my kids have played the role of "secret elf" to a small group of people each december. for the 12 days leading up to Christmas, they drop off little presents at these people's homes, ringing the doorbell and running to hide before the door is answered. on the final day, which we arrange to be Christmas Eve, they actually wait for the door to be answered, and wish the people a merry Christmas.
we choose some neighbors, usually those who are a little older or who live alone. my grandpa used to be one of the recipients, until he died a few years ago. and we have always been secret elf to an incredible, teeny little bundle of love and energy named Clara.
we first met Clara about 15 years ago. she was on a list of care-providers who were available to come to our home to "babysit" our disabled son, and we so fortunately picked her name from the list. she is in her seventies now, and she lives alone in a senior housing complex here in town. she has a son who died a few years back, and another son who has disabilities and lives in a residential facility. she volunteers at a school for kids with disabilities, performing a "foster grandparent" role there.
teeny Clara is hispanic, and although her accent is thick, it's the speed with which words jump from her mouth that cause me the greatest challenge. Clara is full of energy, and even more full of love, and has been one of the amazing gifts that my oldest son has brought into our lives.
today I began collecting items that we will give as "secret elf" gifts. I try to keep them on the "practical and useful" side, though my kids have always teased me that they more likely belong in the "strange and weird" category. I select rolls of tape and cans of soup, and my favorite, a small bottle of "joy" dishwashing soap. candy, clementines, scrub brushes and matches also find their way to my shopping list, as well as candles or bright red spatulas.
I love doing this, and my kids love it. it has become such a part of our Christmas season that I can't imagine the holidays without it.

and it brightened my day today, as I searched the grocery and discount stores for silly things we can wrap up and deliver. the ground may be bare, and the economy might be a mess, but there is still a sense of excitement and joy in the air. I felt it today, swirling around. a true Christmas spirit will always survive whatever calamity exists in our overly dramatic world.
and Clara, bless her very being, will always embody the true and beautiful spirit of the season: pure and joyous love.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

on being grateful

I attended a gathering the other night, and at one point we all shared thoughts about what we were grateful for. we had been asked to bring in representations of those things, if we wished, to place in the middle of us all as we shared our stories.
so many similar and different things, people, experiences, and feelings were shared . . . (though I was the only one who said "my bike"), but what I felt during the entire process was that everyone felt gratitude better than I did.
and I think of myself as a pretty grateful person.
but these people were really feeling it, complete with tears and wavering voices and deeply quiet tones.

since that evening I've been thinking a lot about what gratitude really is, and how it's supposed to feel. I've done some research, and I'm still certain I don't have the answer. gratitude is defined in many ways, but most use words like thankfulness, feeling, awareness, and appreciation. "a state of being grateful." and most of these can be accomplished at the thinking level. which is where I seemed to find myself the other night, when everyone else seemed to be someplace much deeper. I felt shallow (not just because of the bike comment), when everyone else seemed to be deeply engaged with their entire hearts and souls.
I wondered if true gratitude needed to involve a deeper connection than what I've been living.
and I'm not much further along with that thought process than I was that night.

today I passed a car that was making a terrible squeaking noise, and I thought, oh, thank you, I am so blessed to not have any car troubles at the moment. thank you, God, for my car that works so well. this is just how I think. and I feel this all the way into my heart, but it just doesn't always seem to be enough. it doesn't come with bells and whistles and hugs and tears, it just comes.

the other night a woman named Emma exuberantly shared her gratitude with us, saying that a year ago she lived without any gratitude at all. she just didn't think that way. and now, she is awash with gratitude and thrilled with living in that place.
perhaps I am just so accustomed to living here that I don't well up with emotion over it? I'm hoping that's the answer, because the only other answer I can come up with is that I'm not genuinely feeling gratitude. and that can't be possible, because I know I am.
so, perhaps I've worked this out now.
perhaps there are honeymoon phases, when one first learns the joy of being grateful. perhaps the intensity of feelings ebb and flow. perhaps we emote differently, though we may be touched just as deeply.

I am so grateful for a million things, and truly, for everything in my life because I know it is all for the best. as difficult as some things are, I know that to trade them would do me a disservice. but the other night I didn't want to wax on about my children, my family, my house, my friends . . . all of those things I am so very grateful for. I went right to the heart of the matter, and jumped in to the biggies.
I already gave you a preview, but, well, the bottom line is that my short list of things I'm grateful for, shared the other evening, was:

my bike
our canyons
my writing

thanks for letting me share those most important things here with you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

sitting one out

I saw a few people on bikes this afternoon and I wasn't the least bit jealous.
usually I have a little twinge, a prick, some form of a squeeze of my heart.
but not today.
today was a day off the bike, and it was good.
I've had days like this before, when I think I would be just fine if I never rode my bike again. they always surprise me, and I get swept up with the feeling of enough. the same feeling I get after I eat about a pound of chocolate bridge mix: enough. no more. ever. how did I get to this point?
and then somehow, the next day, the bike starts looking good again, and so does the chocolate. satiation doesn't last long for me.
but while I'm in it, the feelings are amazingly intense. biking is hard, I'm tired, I ache, oh, how nice not to have to pump up those hills today. I glory in the spaciousness of my day, all that extra time. I revel in the laziness, in the fact that I haven't coated myself with sweat and dirt nor (this time of year) cloaked myself in cold. and I can't imagine that I ever want to put myself through the process of going for a bike ride ever again.
because it is a process:

scheduling the ride: when can I best fit this in my day, when will it be warmest and does that dovetail in with my work/kid schedule? if not, do I need to tweak something? I need a good 90 minutes, and then at least 20 minutes to shower and be presentable if I have to be seen by anyone other than my kids or those who love me tremendously.

making sure the bike is ready: proper air pressure in tires, lubed chain, semi-clean, no funky noises, full water bottles(s), spare tube necessities in pack, money.

making sure I am ready: weather-appropriate gear on (you know what a guessing game that can be), sunglasses, helmet, shoes, heart monitor, cell phone in a pocket, a treat if I'm going on an extra long or extra challenging ride, extra gear for the downhill stashed somewhere on me or on the bike.

I don't miss this process when I take a day off.
and I often don't even miss the thrill, the freedom, the joy, the peace.

some days it's okay to step out of line and sit one out.

Monday, December 1, 2008

turning back

do you know how many times I think about turning back at some point before the final destination when I'm on a ride?
would you believe at least half the time?
that would probably be accurate.
it's not always during the first 15 minutes, nor is it always at the most difficult point. today it happened about halfway up the canyon. I thought to myself, I don't really have to do this. I don't really have to do this.
how many things in life can one say that about?
I suppose, just about everything.
but we usually choose to just do it anyway.
I think about not doing things, and then I do them anyway.
I think about turning back, and then I just keep going.
like nike says, just do it.
don't think about it, don't strategize, don't bargain, don't rationalize or talk yourself out of it . . . just do it.
which is what I did this afternoon.
which doesn't mean I won't still think about turning back early tomorrow.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

on blue skies and refrigerators

sometime during the night last night my refrigerator began what I believe to be its death spiral.
I woke up to a small puddle on the floor by the freezer side, and opened the door to significant meltage. orange popsicles in paper wrappers leave a particularly loathsome mess.
I've googled and read the manual and tried everything I can think of to make the darn thing come back to life, and nothing is working. at this point the freezer is empty and I have packages of dry ice in the fridge part trying to keep all of my food from joining the fridge in the dance of death.
after having spent the morning working on this issue along with working on work, I decided that a ride was in order.
yes, escape.
clouds had been playing games with our valley all morning, parting and gathering and thinning and thickening. I saw a break toward the east, and decided to head toward the blue sky. leave my fridge and my leaking kitchen drain and my Christmas tree lights that halfway work (better than not at all, right?) and all of my other household frustrations behind. sweat for a while, raise my heartrate, breathe cold air, and try to keep from screaming.
perhaps I should have screamed.
when I reached the summit the clouds split open and revealed a huge splash of blue sky, the sun peaking around the edge of the bulky clouds. and then I remembered that the sky is always blue. always. and that it's only clouds that keep us from seeing this. it is always blue and sun-filled up there, if we can only see past the gray and gloom and obtrusiveness of the clouds. no matter what bundles of cloud hover over our space, there is a huge, beautiful, sun-filled sky up there beyond. and it's only our clouds that hide this from us.
okay. I think I have some cloud-dispersing to do. clouds of doubt and distrust and impatience. clouds of despair and frustration and weakness. I'm going to get out my little whisk broom and sweep them away, remove them from the landscape of my world. and I am going to focus on that blue sky up there, that is always there.

Friday, November 28, 2008

bird nests

one of the gifts of this time of year is that in the disrobing of the trees comes the unveiling of the bird nests.
I've tried counting them as I ride up the canyon, but I always lose track, get distracted by something, and end up having no idea which ones I've counted and how many I haven't even seen, all of this working together to render any count I've ever made woefully suspect. therefore I will just say that with each ride I catch glimpses of nests that had before been hidden from me, hidden by the plentiful leaves of summer or by my own haste or narrow focus.
these nests fascinate me, these collections of twigs and sticks and whatever else the birds have been able to scavenge from the environs. some look as though they might fit into my cupped hands, while others would need both my arms to embrace their circumference. what kind of birds were hatched and raised in these structures? what scraps of our human lives are woven into the walls of their briefly used homes? are there strings or threads or lengths of twine? snippets of torn plastic, fragments of newspaper?
by the time these nests are visible to me, the leaves having turned color and fallen, the birds are likely to have abandoned them. so what I am looking at are the once safely hidden nurseries of the newest generation of feather-winged creatures. which brings me great delight, as if a secret has just been revealed: ah-ha, this is where the birds have been hiding all those months as they grew from being enveloped in the egg to birth to fledgling to adult.
the trees, stripped bare of all their leaves, still stand so proudly, holding onto these nests. it's as if they know they are the chosen ones, those who have been asked to hold safely and firmly in the crooks of their boughs these fragile homes of newborn birds.
the landscape is bare, the trees barren save for these collections of twigs that please and thrill me with their confidence, their continuity, their belief that given a safe place to grow, the baby birds within will develop strength and faith in an ability to lift open their wings and soar, far and away.


this morning I looked out my windows, up toward emigration canyon, and saw that it was deeply cloaked in fog.
or cloud.
which made me want to ride up into it, to see what it felt like to ride in fog.
or cloud.
I waited until the temperature climbed to 43 degrees, then hopped on my bike for my adventure. it was awesome.
with about 85 percent humidity in the air, my skin was experiencing a cold-water facial and loving it. I could feel minuscule water particles hanging around me, moving with me as I steadily climbed up the road. the fog surrounded me and yet was nowhere near me. I could see it draping itself over the tops of the hills on either side of me, drifting and folding in upon itself, reaching down to the houses but somehow dispersing as it neared the road where I was.
as I reaching the U-turn where the canyon opens up the fog remained below me, and the sky, lined with layers and layers of clouds, spread itself all around. the sun peaked through for a moment, and as I turned I saw the billowing fog hanging over the roadway far below. I just rode through a low-lying cloud, and came out the other side . . . another amazing experience for my heart and soul to savor.
and then the fog seemed to reach up and touch the clouds, and I ended my creative thought process and started the cerebral questioning: what is the difference between fog and cloud?
I knew that I didn't know.
so of course I returned home and after eating (yum) and showering (ahhh) I turned to my best search engine, google, and can now share with you what I learned:
fog (according to the American Meteorological Society) consists of "water droplets suspended in the atmosphere in the vicinity of the earth's surface."
clouds, on the other hand, are also water droplets suspended in the atmosphere but they are not near the earth's surface.
therefore, fog is just an extremely low-lying cloud.
and now we know.
on the way down the canyon I was chilly, as expected, and full of joy that I was slicing my way through the fog. which was a good little fog all the way until the last few miles, when it started seeping. a drip here, a drop there, a few speckles on my sunglasses . . . which deepened my chill and make me excited for the hot shower I knew was coming, during which I could perhaps create my own room full of warm fog.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

the last thursday in november

I have to be like everyone else today, and focus on what I'm thankful for.
because if I didn't, it wouldn't feel right. it's expected of us all, and though I hate to be common, I also exude gratitude so this is a pretty easy process.
you already know so many of the things I'm grateful for that to start from the beginning would bore you to tears. therefore I have decided that today, I will list things you may not know already. this will challenge me, and possibly provide entertainment for you.

I am thankful for:

sweet 'n low
pilot precise V-point pens
funky paperclips
composers and songwriters
beautiful, rich voices
rain that cleans my sidewalks
my icemaker
water, in just about any form
eucerin cream
van morrison
friends who don't give up on you
stores full of amazing things that I am able to just look at
the internet
time with no "have-to's"
my vacuum
fences and boundaries
my mother, incredible woman that she is
the scent of lemons and grapefruit
tootsie rolls
playing cards
dictionaries and thesauruses

and that's my quirky list for the day, a small portion of the myriad things for which I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


gold, ochre, bronze, copper, fawn, chestnut, pumpkin, burnt umber, rust, sienna, gray, celadon, brown, ash, mahogany, olive, tan, wheat, flax, sable, ochre: the colors of the hillside palette today.
little dell is deep sap green with bluish undertones, the water casually rippling with the slight breeze, shimmering in a deep autumn way, quietly and gently, the light lifting upward but not bouncing as it does in the heat of summer.
the leaves are gone, dropped and blown away, and the tall grasses still reach skyward and flux with the movement of the air where they haven't yet been flattened into an uneven carpet by the early snows.
not surprisingly, it is quiet; the few cars that pass by are sedate today, no engines charging or brakes squealing, no mufflers chortling. no chipmunks or squirrels performing death-defying acts of asphalt racing, not a deer to be seen. or perhaps these creatures are blending so perfectly with the golden land that they are there, watching us humans, safely ensconced in their burrows and blinds and content to observe our antics.
I breathe in peace and exhale discontent. I still ache to ride forever, away, away from discomfort and frustration and disappointment. how much peace and solitude and awe can I breathe into my body before it outweighs the heaviness? how can I expel the heaviness when it won't seem to lift from where it has settled, somewhere deep within my bones?
I breathe in golden hillsides and shimmering water lit by the mid-day sun, and I breathe in dry, expectant air, full of patience as it waits for the coming change. perhaps some of this patience will remain with me, help me straddle the heaviness as I reach for the airiness of the coming season.
soon it will snow and this beloved landscape, full of bronze and copper and straw-colored swaths, will disappear beneath a deep coverlet of white. we will all adapt, from the chipmunks and raccoons to the deer and elk, from the eager skiers to us reluctant cyclists. we will all breathe, we will all move through the season of still whiteness, of hibernation, of renewal.
I will breathe in peace, and exhale deeply, releasing all that is ready to be let go.

Monday, November 24, 2008

tikkun olam

the Jewish faith is full of quirks and oddities and incredible wisdom. those of us who consider ourselves "Christian," and call acts of kindness, compassion and generosity "Christian" behavior, should really rethink that whole thing. such acts are completely in alignment with Jewish belief ~ and the beliefs of many other religions across the world ~ who are the Christians to believe that we own such acts?
the Jewish people do a much better job at it than we Christians do.
or if they follow the tenets of their faith that I am familiar with, they do.

and where is this coming from, you ask? on cold weather days (and yoga tuesdays), I work out at the Jewish Community Center. not only is it housed in a beautiful facility, perched high on a northeastern slope of our city, but it is a community I feel part of. the people at the front desk know me, and I know many of my fellow early-morning work-out companions. like bunny, who has got to be in her seventies, who is there every weekday morning from 5 until 6. and nick, who is swiss, who loves to and lives to ski, and who is also a few decades older than me. some people I know only to wave hello and goodbye to, and then there are my biking buddies, bob and andy and now oz, who introduced himself to me last week. there are my yoga friends, and the other regulars who float in and out who make me feel part of something bigger than myself.
besides the community, something I love about the JCC are the signs they put up on walls and doors and bulletin boards, signs like "call your mother," and quotes from people whose mission is peace. they post notice of community events of every kind imaginable, and signs that encourage health and fitness and open-mindedness. "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose." (dr. seuss.)
and then there's tikkun olam.

tikkun olam is sometimes referred to as the spiritual purpose of life: its literal translation is "world repair," which is made more user-friendly in the phrase, repairing the world. my JCC has a tikkun olam corner, where they collect blankets and coats to give to those in need, and food to give to the hungry. other collections and activities gather in this corner as well, and this "corner" is not truly a corner but alongside the wall you pass by as you enter into the facility. front and center, impossible to ignore. though these collections are but a small part of repairing the world, they are proof of a commitment to the practice.
some say that tikkun olam is both an inward and an outward process: not only service to those in need, what we call social justice, but also a service to the divine, through uncovering and freeing the light within us.
what a beautiful teaching, so full of wisdom and confidence and certainty.
along with yoga and some core work this morning I received a significant gift in those two words, tikkun olam. they resonate so strongly with me because I feel their importance and their necessity. if I could have just one wish granted, it would be that all of us on this planet be given an understanding of and a belief in the phrase tikkun olam.

today, may you find peace and comfort and continuing ways to liberate your inner light.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the grotto, revisited

city creek canyon, november 23, 2008.
cold. crisp. clear. invigorating. refreshing.
the beautiful grotto at the top, small patches of snow still scattered across the road. sun peaking over the hilltop, lighting the statue-like rock formations on the high northern wall, but not reaching the place where we shiver and refuel and rest our hearts before we head back down the winding, leaf strewn road.

I fear that I am beginning to take all these experiences for granted.

as with all things in life, nothing ~ not even a state of mind ~ stays the same. therefore, my enthusiasm and excitement about my cycling experiences is bound to change over time. a canyon seen for the first time from a bike is still the same canyon seem the twenty-ninth time from a bike, but to experience it the same way each time is unlikely. I am still in the honeymoon phase, where everything is new(ish) and wonderful and amazing. but little wisps of repetitive-itis have already slipped into my riding, when I wonder to myself, do I really want to be riding that same road again today? do I want to climb that overpass, do I want the hassle of that intersection, do I want to climb up that hill again and again?
nothing lasts forever.
not our pain, not our joy. not our boredom and not our passion and not our enthusiasm.
a teacher in my high school told me the story of King Solomon's ring inscribed with the words and this too shall pass. these words were supposedly suggested to him by a selection of his wisest men, to be used as a way to change a depressive state. for the longest time I used those words in that same way, to help me deal with difficulty or unhappy times. but it's not until the last few years that I began to accept the opposite side of the coin: that the joyous, amazing, wonderful or passionate times will not last, either. they, too, will pass away.
nothing lasts forever.
everything changes.
and this is how it's meant to be: we live in this every-changing world where stability is fleeting. we work so hard to form security and safety around us, and we learn the most when it is taken from us.
so every ride matters. none can ever be repeated exactly as it was in the past, and none will ever be the same in the future. I may pass through the honeymoon and fear the "taking things for granted" phase, but if I hold true to what I believe in, that dreaded phase will never arrive. I can continue to find beauty and joy and newness on my rides, though I travel the same roads and paths. because everything shifts and changes and the only promise we can truly hang on to is that
this, too, shall pass.