Details in the expanse

IMG_0215Last week words came easily, like water filling a tidepool at dusk, effortless and inevitable. This week a lot of big things happened, and words got blurry. I started my fall semester. I slowly, achingly gained enough elbow flexibility to wash my face with both hands. I saw my dad go into and come out of brain surgery. I walked a lot and carried a lot, having yet to figure out how much stuff I actually need for a day of school. I ate hospital cafeteria food with my mom, and we listened to one another. I brought ice cream and morning buns to my dad (on different days), watched football (twice, on different days), and saw his determination and lucidity gradually return.

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This disease is brutal, and so are the treatments. Individual lives are at once unflaggingly strong and terrifyingly tenuous. Like the confident, floppy-leafed maple trees that shelter tiny hopeful seedlings, we live in infinite beginnings and endings. We are at once anchored to minute, temporal details and awash in the broadest expanse.

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The expanse got big this week, like a sky so wide and open that there was nothing to do but float. I gave up on explanations, and efficiency, and doing dishes, and being ahead of whatever game I’d thought was worth playing. I noticed little things. I took pictures. I met my classmates. I cried behind my sunglasses, and I found people who let me cry without them. I cooked, and ate, and laughed, and eventually even did my dishes.

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I don’t think this life gets easy, or at least it doesn’t stay that way. But it keeps
getting beautiful. Relentlessly, effortlessly beautiful, in detail and expanse.

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Making Beauty

I haven’t blogged for a really long time. It would be overwhelming to ever blog again if I thought I needed to recap everything that’s happened in the intervening time. I can barely recap what’s happened today, or in the last month, much less understand it. But when things stop making sense, they still make beauty. That’s why I’m writing. I can’t draw worth a damn, or paint, or dance. My window on art is words, and maybe food and dirt. But I have no one to feed but myself tonight, and gardening in the dark is…dark. So here go the words:

I moved to Madison a few months ago. It was a huge step for me. It was one of the few shining, courageous, heady times in my life that I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do, resisting the urge to play backup singer to someone else who takes the real risks. I left my comfort zone and jumped into school, learning introductory chemistry from an amazingly competent and human prof…who was 6 years younger than me. I delighted in finding my way around the city on my bike, connecting one half-remembered street to another, letting a three-dimensional, five-sensical city map spread out within me. I wandered down Bascom Hill on my way home from the library, smitten by the well-worn buildings and the thousands of students’ stories they held. I let myself stop to read a few restaurant menus each day, searching for vegan or veganizable foods.

I was drinking in the experience of being in this old-and-new-again place, and yet somehow also holding it at arm’s length. I was meeting the city yet making friends more slowly than I wanted. I had let go of training for specific triathlons, but I found myself unsure of whether I was training enough. Enough for what? What was my goal? What if I didn’t have one? It felt like failure, or at the very least pusillanimity. (That’s a twenty-five cent word I learned while studying for the GRE. I’m going to make you look it up.)

I was trying like hell to gain traction, to put my biking, yoga-ing, healthy-eating, hard-working self in this place, but my proverbial wheels seemed to be spinning. I was doing fine in my class, meeting people gradually…but I was finding myself a ball of nerves more than I wanted. And finding myself dramatically skinny. Disconcertingly pointy. Like I was retracting into old versions of myself for fear of opening into this new place. Wrapping up tightly in my insecurity blankets.

And then, thank God, someone had the courage to have an uncomfortable conversation. One person expressed their concern about my physical and mental health, and all of a sudden the blankets fell away. I felt completely exposed. I was wearing my nerves and stuck-in-the-pastness and fear of the future in every protruding bone and brow furrow. I wasn’t fooling anyone, and after a weekend’s worth of tears and tough conversations, I finally I stopped trying to fool myself.

Food is an incredibly powerful thing. It offers sustenance and decadence, visceral connection to the past, and a tangible connection to our living community – whether through dirt on garlic from the garden or knowledge that Twinkies were packaged by someone, somewhere. I’ve always loved the flavors and colors and nuances of food, and I’ve loved the relationships nourished over food. I’ve also used food as a mechanism for control when life seemed uncontrollable; I’ve used it as comfort when life seemed uncomfortable. We all do this to some extent. Food is not optional, so each of us has to have a relationship with it. The health of this relationship ebbs and flows as we change, and mine had reached a true ebb.

So I got help. There are people very good at helping others navigating these ebbs and flows, and finally, finally, after my whole adult life and some of my teen years, I admitted that I didn’t have this thing figured out. It was an amazing relief.

And then the unfiguring started! My nutritionist suggested I add back some food groups. We started with grains and a few desserts, which I had basically eliminated this winter in an effort to “eat clean” and reduce purportedly inflammatory foods. I had not realized how readily my perfectionistic brain latched onto these new good-and-bad food categories, adding grains (especially those with gluten) and sugar to the “bad” list.

Anyhow, my body loved, loved, loved the beautiful whole grain bread and rice I gave it, and it even did fine with the white baguette slices with real butter I found at restaurants. Amazing. I started enjoying some more desserts: Guinness chocolate cake with my family at an open-air restaurant, hazelnut gelato with my very own self on State Street. Hot damn, this eating thing was feeling fantastic.

And then I decided to really branch out. I haven’t really identified as vegan in quite a while, as I went “off the wagon” occasionally. But this time I unhitched the wagon. Over the past three weeks, I’ve enjoyed eggs in many forms, a delicious variety of cheeses, pulled pork, chunks of bacon, chicken of widely varied quality, and luscious, flaky salmon. And a big fat hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli Square in Chicago with my dad.

It’s been alternately delicious and disorienting. But I’m putting on some much-needed weight, becoming less pointy, and gradually finding myself at home in a more substantial body. One that is OK with being right here, even though things are uncomfortable and scary sometimes, and even though the future is bigger than I can see.

But this is about wanting a big future. It’s about stepping into school not knowing what will meet me at the end – or honestly, at the end of next week. It’s about intentionally living close to my family – in location and emotion – even though loving hard means hurting hard sometimes. It’s about opening to people for the simple reason that staying closed is a waste of time.

It’s about having the courage to eat from life’s whole buffet – from beautiful broccolini to caramel bread pudding – rather than from a cramped subset of foods chosen more by fear than reason.

It’s about loving the process of becoming, with all its mess. It’s about knowing that pain is not failure, that it’s a necessary corollary to joy.

It’s about being fed, and rooting down, and letting things make beauty rather than sense.

Posted in Everything Else, Food | 3 Comments

Horizons

This was an amazing weekend. 581 people and one sports mascot gathered on Monday night to honor my dad’s 45 years of ministry as a Bethel Lutheran Church pastor and Bethel Horizons camp executive director.

Dad Bucky

 

 

 

 

 

My mom said this morning that she felt drenched with love. I feel that too – and fatigue is starting to soak in as well – so tonight isn’t a time for new words. But in honor of my dad’s first day of retirement (May 1), I wanted to share the brief statement I gave as part of Bjorn’s, Dara’s, and my family reflection on Monday. Here’s to the horizon.

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Monday, April 29

Well before my father coaxed an attendance estimate out of the gleefully secretive planning committee, I knew this room would be full. My dad has made an impact on a great many lives, and I’m a very proud daughter.

The impact came through countless meetings, cups of coffee, and handshakes. But above all, this room is full because my dad believes that people can grow.

My dad knows that anyone, of any background, means, or status, can help. There’s a place for everyone to start, from painting boards to calming campers with a bedtime story. What’s more, there’s a place for everyone to grow, and a place for second chances after poor choices.

My dad expects quality, care, compassion, and drive from the people he works with – and from himself. With his expectation of excellence, he opens the possibility for it, a space to grow – a horizon if you will.

This horizon has the breadth it does – and brings the freedom it does – because it is not bound by physical place. Bethel Horizons holds holy places for many of us, from Rockledge cliff to the soccer field where so many fishies crossed the pond on summer Monday evenings. But the holiness of places, and our capacity for wholeness, and our ability to find growth…just IS.

That truth – that goodness just IS – is the crux of faith, and it’s what has empowered my dad to do what he’s done. He didn’t invent forgiveness or community or harmony. He just made a place for it, and invited others in.

Thank you, Dad, for believing in horizons. May we all continue to open them.

 

 

 

 

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The offseason: Less control, more trust

I went into this 8 week offseason with the intention to take a break from structured training, do a lot of yoga, and be ready to jump into training again come November. The first two are in progress, and as of this morning, the third looks like it will happen too.

In the last 5 weeks, I’ve taken more of a break from structure than I have in recent memory. I’ve trained at an as-I-feel pace. Or more accurately, I’ve exercised. Training has a target; my goal was just to keep the machine moving. I’ve gone biking with friends, stopped for coffee mid-ride, gone easy and gone hard just because I could. I bought a cross bike and will try it on an actual cross course this weekend. Probably before the race, without a bib number, but you never know! DFL beats DNS?

I’ve done a lot of yoga, and it’s been nothing short of amazing. In my first few classes I found myself anticipating the poses, thinking about how much time there was left, as if I could change it if I knew. Then I started to let go, just move and breathe…and the classes started to fly by. Or maybe I started to fly a little; there are times I felt like I was dancing. Like I let go of the little marionette strings that hold me too rigid and realized I could move on my own.

I pulled a chest muscle, let it heal. I quit chewing gum and just ate when I was hungry. I’ve listened to more music and less news. I haven’t logged workouts. I watched the debates and just let myself be nonplussed. I let myself fall just a little head over heels, let myself crash, and got back up.

Yoga is powerful in that it asks you to face yourself, and doing it 5 times a week is not always easy. My mind can be chattery and not always constructive; it can be frustrating to hear the chatter even when I know it’s just that. But I’m learning to listen more to my gut than my head; anticipate less, calculate less, trust more.

So I’ve been putting off making my race schedule for next season. I’ve truly enjoyed racing these last couple of years, but I wasn’t compelled by a constructing a schedule like I have been in the past. I’ve been spending less time planning and more time doing, and I like that. There was a time that I needed training to be a treadmill; I needed something to pull me out of bed, set me in motion, and then propel me again from the end of the workday until couch time.

But I don’t need that anymore. Amazing as it is, I’m learning to love the spaces in between destinations. I don’t need to feel busy to feel purposeful. I don’t need to feel fear to find motion.

Less control, more trust.

So I went swimming this morning. My swims over the past month have been really short and really easy and really slow. Today’s was not as short, not as easy, but still really slow. I wasn’t trying to swim fast today, but it’s still a little depressing to see a pace slower than my easy pace a season ago. So…maybe it’s time to dig in.

My bike power and speed are still lower than before my accident. I’m far healthier, but dagnammit, a little more speed would be nice. And fun.

So the fire in my belly is sparking up. The race plan is coming, this weekend, and base training will start in November. I’ll stick to my heart rate zones as much as I can, do my workouts, and see what I can build. But I’m going to let it be fun as well as work. I like building a base, watching my fitness ebb and flow and gradually build. I like working hard, being spent at the end of a workout, even finding that place where the legs just don’t want to start up. Finding those limits is a kind of fun, too; it’s what I originally fell in love with about triathlon.

But this season I’ll also stick with a few yoga classes a week, some skiing this winter, some workouts with friends, and generally a little more looseness. Less preparation, more action. Less sitting by the pool waiting to be ready to get in, more just getting in. Less living in the future, more living now.

Less control, more trust.

Good plan.

 

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Musselman Race Report: To those whom much is given

When I registered for the Musselman aquabike (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, zero run) this winter, the form must have asked me to name a person I admire, or who I consider to be my hero. Because when I arrived at my transition spot today, this sign greeted me:

 

 

 

 

 

Wow. Instant tug in my chest and tears in my eyes. My Grandpa Dimick is indeed one of the people I admire most and who inspires me to become my best. He embodied both a stoic determination and a delightful sparkle that could sneak in just when things were feeling too weighty.

Grandpa was the Adult in the Room. He could be counted on to make unpleasant decisions that others didn’t want to face, which served him well as school principal, superintendent, church council president, and chair of more boards than I even know about, I’m sure. He liked being involved in his community, but he also felt it was his duty.

Grandpa measured his words. If he had nothing to add to a conversation, he’d stay silent, although you knew he was taking everything in. When he finally spoke, you listened. And one of the things he said – only a few times, because that’s all it took – was: “To those whom much is given, much is also expected.”

Whoa.

I’ve spent much of my life navigating how to live as one to whom much is given. I’ve spent substantial time tugged by guilt that I don’t DESERVE all that I’ve been given. That I need to pour out all I have…because I have more than I should. But without allowing myself to be filled at the same time, I just ended up empty. Tapped out. Unable to give any more.

Last year I also did the Musselman aquabike, and I did end up tapped out. I paced myself too fast for the hot conditions and ended up soft-pedaling the last 6-8 miles, because my gut basically shut down. I didn’t get to enjoy the post-race atmosphere, because dragging myself to my car…and home…was all I could think about.

So this year, with a solid winter of training as well as a couple of test-rides on the Musselman course under my belt, my first goal was to finish strong. I knew it would take some pacing on the bike, as my tendency (like pretty much everyone’s, I think) is to go out too hard.

So after a solid swim – or scrum, more accurately, for the number of bodies I kept pawing and being pawed by – I forced myself to settle into a sustainable bike pace. It stinks to get passed by people, but it would have stunk even more to flail at mile 50 like last year.

I thought a lot about pacing until the deluge started. I don’t know how accurate my sense of time is, but it seemed like a solid half hour, if not 45 minutes, of driving rain. The kind that sheets across the road in waves of big, heavy drops. Literally, holy buckets. I told myself that this couldn’t last forever…and then I started thinking that I’d be writing this race report from an ark.

It was cold. Not as cold as Keuka – thank God for that experience to show me just how unpleasant a ride I can survive – but definitely shudder-inducing. After about 20 minutes of rain, I decided that, pacing be damned, if I was going to generate enough heat not to DNF (Did Not Finish, for non-triathlete readers), I needed to dial up the intensity.

So I did, stayed warm enough not to shiver uncontrollably, and eventually the rain stopped. I have never been so glad to see a steep hill (up from Hwy 89), as it presented a chance to generate heat but not headwind!

Long story short, I finished strong and almost 20 minutes faster than last year (19:45 to be exact). Even my transition was marginally faster. I feel so, so fortunate, and proud too.

I have indeed been given so much, not least of which is my health. I was fortunate enough to get through my crash 2 years ago with the capacity to heal, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to do it. Recovery has taken a lot of work, but the fact that recovery is possible – that forgiveness is an inextricable part of this life – is the gift. What we do with the gift is our choice. And my best choices come out of real gratitude rather than guilt.

So, with deep and true respect for my Grandpa, I might revise his statement slightly:

To those whom much is given, much is also POSSIBLE.

When I live in that possibility, I can fly. I can move forward, and I can give more than ever.

And finally, in honor of bananas: I eat a lot of bananas, usually 2 per day. My grandpa would have half a banana every morning for breakfast. He used to sing: “I like bananas, because they have no bones.”

True that.

Thanks, Grandpa, for a great ride.

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Keuka Lake Tri Race Report: New Rules

This morning I did the sprint distance race at the Keuka Lake Tri. Two years ago, in 2010, this race was my first triathlon. I was so nervous that I only remember a few moments of the race, the most salient of which was during the last leg of the swim. I remember thinking, “It’s a good thing I like training so much, because this racing thing sucks!”

I was in a very different place in my life in June 2010; it was a month before I broke my pelvis and 9 months before I became single. Honestly, training was one of the few things that was making sense to me at the time…and for my first race, I did pretty well in terms of time. I was 6th in my age group, averaged over 19 mph on the bike, and ran just over a 9 minute pace on the run. Those were good numbers for me.

When I looked back at my 2010 times last week, I had this little sinking feeling that they’d be hard for me to reach this year. While I’ve become much more durable and aware of my body in the two years since my injury, I haven’t seen a 19 mph average ride since then. My head is in a much, much better place now, and I’d like to think that all of that clear-mindedness would result in speed.

But it was not the case. I was 12 minutes slower than I was in 2010. My bike and run splits were both slower. My swim was a tiny hare faster. And of course my transitions were absurd. This relative slowness was caused by 3 things: the weather, my new body, and the new rules I’m living by.

First, the weather. It was about 55 degrees with a 10-15 mph west wind when the race started. I was a little chilly waiting to start the swim, but once we started swimming in the 67-degree water, I was comfortable. My swim did feel much smoother than last time, even if it was only a smidge faster.

Then I got out of the water, and oh my goodness, did I get cold fast! I’d brought a jacket for the ride – thankfully, or I might not have finished – which I put on and started riding. I figured I’d warm up in 5 or 10 minutes. Nope. The headwind during the middle portion of the ride, plus the steady rain that started as soon as I left on the bike, kept me absolutely shivering. I employed every technique of relaxation, feeling rather than fighting the discomfort, focusing down the road , and so on, that I could find. The plus side is that I stayed relaxed enough not to cramp; the minus side is that I couldn’t quit shivering and eventually just had to focus on bike control and getting the hell back to transition. I have had some challenging bike rides in my life, but I have never been more uncomfortable on a bike than today. Crimi-freakin-ently.

The bright side of all this is that the run, instead of being my hardest event, became an utter relief! Finally, I could generate some heat! My first mile was really slow, as I was just trying to get the legs moving. I did manage to descend my pace over the three miles, which was good. But my overall run time – and overall bike time – were slow, even in my own context. Obviously the weather played a major role; apparently I just do not have enough body mass to handle the cold. This is frustrating.

And also obviously, 23 months ago I snapped my body apart and started building all over again. In the process, I’ve learned an incredible amount about how to facilitate healing and how my body is connected. I’ve learned that body regions are not isolated; I can relax tightness in my calves by settling my shoulders back, and I can resolve pain in the arch of my foot by rotating my hips outward. And I can relax most any pain by just not worrying about it.

But – my hypothesis goes – it will take time to build strength in this new body. I had a become relatively efficient at cycling and running using form that was ultimately not sustainable. (I was fighting achilles, calf, and shoulder issues even before my accident.)

Lastly, my Rules have changed. Two years ago, the only place I knew to derive motivation – for training, racing, working, whatever – was in avoiding failure. I enjoyed training, but it was always undergirded by this anxiety that if I stopped I’d get fat; I raced, but I was motivated more by a fear of NOT trying hard enough than a DESIRE to wring every ounce of ability out of myself.

Over the past two years, I’ve learned that it’s ok – and SO satisfying – to be driven by possibility of success rather than fear of failure. As a result, I’m infinitely happier, have more and better friends, am hopeful for the future, and had way more fun at this race than I did two years ago. I would love for that improved mental state to result in faster times…but maybe not yet.

So, my Rules:

1. Move from your core. This applies both physically and intangibly. It means, literally, trusting my gut and moving forward.

2. Don’t freak out. After testing the Freak Out plan on many, many scenarios, I’ve found that it never works. It just means you have to first quit freaking out, and then address the original problem. Goes hand in glove with Rule #1.

3. Be your own friend. For many years, I tried to pour myself out for other people without filling myself up. Not unpredictably, it left me empty. As I embarked on my singlehood, I realized that feeding myself – physically, mentally, and spiritually – was no longer negotiable. I had to be strong enough to support myself, and I wanted to be. So gradually, in more and more parts of my life, I’ve given myself space to relax when I need to, be less than perfect, and extend to myself the compassion I used to reserve for others. It’s made living with myself so much nicer. Like putting a fluffy couch and throw blanket where a wooden chair once was.

My new rules are staying. Even if my old mental patterns gave me enough frustration to produce a few more watts on the bike, I wouldn’t take them back for a million dollars. Because they were killing me. Maybe giving me something to run from.

So tomorrow morning I start training again, with a recovery swim in the morning and some yoga in the evening. I can’t wait. I still love the process, what I learn, how movement cleans out my mind and makes my body stronger. And I think – I hope – that if I build my good form, I can layer strength on top of it and end up with speed.

At the end of the day, I was healthy enough to race, had a great time with friends, and pushed myself in ways I didn’t expect. That’s why I’ll be back next year. Perhaps with a parka.

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Spin it forward

This post starts with a plant. Late last week, a grower friend of mine gifted me with a big, beautiful New Guinea impatien basket. It has huge, gorgeous, deep purple-fuchsia blooms and glossy, dark green strappy leaves. It had me at hello.

I have no idea why he didn’t want me to pay for the plant; I offered to! But no, it was a gift. It left me thankful and wanting to do something good and unexpected for someone else, to “pay it forward.”

This unexpected generosity just compounded the thankfulness that kept bubbling up during the week. On Monday I found a really great group of people to ride bikes with, and early Friday morning I took my first lake swim with more friends. Then on Saturday morning I got to ride the Tour de Peonies (kind of like a Tour de Pyrenees, but shorter, less steep, and involving more hiking into fields of flowers…) with the Geneva Women’s Ride gals. I love the people my bike, and the sport of triathlon, let me meet. Friendships formed on two wheels are some of my favorites. 

Then yesterday I took a solo ride from Black Creek Park. The weather was lovely – mid-70’s and just overcast enough to be comfortable – and summer was just coming out to play. Peonies, bee balm, phlox, and clematis were blooming, and people’s garden center finds – blazing red geraniums, cotton-candy pink petunias, and mardi-gras-ready calibrachoa baskets – were fresh and spunky.

Which is how I felt. Some combination of finallies – finally getting enough sleep, finally finding a sports drink that doesn’t make me urpy, finally relaxing some habitual, latent-yet-constant tensions – left me ready to eat up the road. I found rich, damp, woodsy scents as I spun through shady roads, short, steep hills by Oatka Creek Park, and a rolling ribbon of pavement I didn’t want to end. I was intoxicated. What pure joy to soak in a ride like that.

For a body that moves; for a fun, supportive group of friends; for my family; for the job that challenges and rewards me; for the freedoms this country provides; for the people in and out of uniform who defend and extend those freedoms; for the fundamental truth that new life is always possible…I am thankful.

There are so many ways to “pay forward” a grateful spirit – or in keeping with the bike theme, to spin it forward. One small thing I’m going to do is ride in the Tour de Cure on Sunday, June 10 to help raise funds and awareness for diabetes prevention. Believe me, there is zero hardship on my part. I get to take a casual, fun ride with a group of really nice people and get fed on the way!

I also get to raise some money for the American Diabetes Association, to help them fund research, education, and treatment for diabetes. This disease touches all of us – including a good many of my family and friends – and its costs in both personal and financial terms are huge. I just listened to an On Point podcast about teens with diabetes, and a study has just found that 25% of teens are diabetic or pre-diabetic. The good news is that it often doesn’t take drastic lifestyle changes to reverse pre-diabetes; the bad news is that if left unaddressed, the consequences for our nation’s health and health care system are staggering.

Anyhow, my goal is to raise $150 with my ride, and I’m half way there. If you’re able to kick in a few dollars – really, just $5 or $10 helps! – here’s the link to my fundraising page.  If a donation doesn’t work right now, that’s ok too. We can all spin forward thankfulness and health – and sometimes, I’ve learned, it starts with taking care of yourself.

Here’s to the new week! (Whew – Now that Memorial Day has come, I can bring out my white pants and dresses! Hahahahaha.) Thanks for reading.

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