Lost: Mo, size large.

The Daily Life Text

Sigh.
I do hate losing my mo. One of my favorite lines to trot out about having chosen writing as a career is that you can find inspiration in whatever you do or say. You wake up every day knowing that something is going to strike you as worthy. Everyone has something to offer you. It’s a very lucky thing, knowing that you’ve got that on your side. Inspiration’s not a problem. It’s motivation that’s the issue, motivation to get up and outside and look for inspiration. You don’t find it in a cubicle, although a good friend mentioned the other day that I am the type of person who would do better in a box, entirely closed up, if I am to really focus. Sigh.
Take today, for instance. We went to bed last night at a reasonable hour and I decided that this week was going to be the week that I get back to being physically fit. Yes, yes, I really have done nothing since Ironman. I did this jog on Monday:
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and it took me FOREVER. I ran the loop six times, for a total mileage of 1.8 miles, and it took me 21 minutes. Argh. Speed isn’t really an issue–I’ve become quite pokey since I started distance training, and I’m okay with that–really, really–but what I was really struck by was how much my legs ached on Tuesday.
At any rate, I thought, OK, let’s just get back on the bandwagon, do cardio three days a week this week: Wednesday you’ll do the same loop six more times, maybe 7, do the same thing on Friday. By week two you should be working out six days a week, strength training on the days you don’t run.
Guess what? It’s Wednesday. I have not yet gone for my jog. Later, though, later.
The weekend was strange. Friday night I took Jim to Horsefeathers with Peggy, since he’d never been. We got home kind of late for my 5:15 wake-up call to get to the U.N. in time for U.N.-Rotary Day. It was a nice day representing ShelterBox, but I ran, as predicted, on all six cylinders that day and was totally wasted by the time I got home for dinner with Kate. Still, it was awesome to see her, and nicer still to have yet another friend in our home.
We didn’t take any photos with Kate (why not? why not? morons!), but I’ve been charged with a Flat Stanlina until after Thanksgiving, and she got her photo taken at the U.N.
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Lucky girl.
I spent all over Sunday on the couch. Totally exhausted. It was a gorgeous day, and I read Wuthering Heights and watched the BBC film version, which was unexpectedly moving.
Anyway. So here I am, flabby and unexercised. In other news, though, I’m finally beginning to wrap my head around finishing my applications for the MFA programs I applied for (really, it’s just sending in manuscripts and essays and things), I wrote close to 3000 words yesterday for NaNoWriMo, I just found out my good friend Jody is going to be Chicago the same time I am over Thanksgiving, and I think I am *this* close to convincing my brother that he needs to come out early for Christmas so we can have some quality time before the holidays take over.
I think I might actually have most of my shopping & making-stuff (I do hate the word “crafting,” don’t you?) done, too, believe it or not. Most of it.
Here’s a gratuitous photo of the United Nations building. I’ve always loved this building. It’s due to be gutted, though, because it’s way out of honking code. Asbestos and everything.
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I forgot: Flat Stanlina and I had coffee together. She ate most of my egg sandwich, the little so-and-so. coffeeandsandwich
More writing now. Some exercising later. Bleh. I have a horrible hankering, by the way, to be back on Dartmoor. Wannh!
Shelterbox SRT Training 103

Eyeballs in my martini and the woes of a broken camera

The Daily Life Text

My, oh my, oh my.
How time does fly. We’ve done a lot in just a short week. I’ve mentioned our friends Colin, Carli, and Lily before. We went on that incredible Fat Tire Narnia trip with them? Right, anyway, Halloween kicked off a week early for us, as we met the Trues over in Sleepy Hollow for some good graveyard fun. Honestly, it was just us, walking (okay, first driving, ‘cos we weren’t clear on the concept of an unmarked parking lot) through the graveyard, visiting the graves of people more creative, more famous, wealthier than we are. This is where I really regretted not having a camera, since there were actually some really beautiful, very moving monuments to people. But it’s OK. Through the wonder of facebook, i have poached a photo taken by Carli that shows one of our favorites:
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I can’t remember who it was, but I’m going to have to just go back to the cemetery, maybe in winter, and take a few photos of my own.
There was one family that had some very good, very snarky epitaphs on their stones–one of my favorites said something about the adventure of a bargain.
Anyhow, we wandered through Sleepy Hollow for a bit, seeing with dismay that everything was closed on a Sunday, even brunch places and then we went on to Irvington and had lunch at Geordane’s, after which I promptly left my bag on a bench.
Oh well.
Fortunately, the people of Irvington are very nice folks and when we got home there was a message from the Irvington Police department saying that someone had found my entire bag and that I could pick it up whenever I wanted. People are good. When we returned to Irvington, we spotted this in a shop window:
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I really like the plastic-eyeballs in martini-glass detail:
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(That’s some innovative garnish.)
The rest of the week was spent in  panicked preparation for our party, to which we were expecting 20, 25 people in our teeny tiny apartment. In the end, it all worked out OK–people hung out on the balcony and largely away from the over-lit kitchen. I tried to take some photos with my broken camera:
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our neighbor, blake. awesome, nice guy.
our neighbor, blake. awesome, nice guy.

And then I switched to Jim’s camera, which has uber-aggressive flash and does not show the spookiness of our black-lit, scary apartment.

our friend matt the banana.
our friend matt the banana.

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Really, really fun. We had a great time. I, by the way, was the only one who didn’t immediately guess what my friend Tom, who came in the LORD outfit with the FLIES pasted all over him, was. Argh. SO LAME.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have awesome friends. Folks really got into the Halloween concept, and everyone seemed to either be drunk or having a good time. Snort!
And now, the view from my window lately:
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In writing news, on Wednesday afternoon I hit a massive glitch in my most recent manuscript, freaked out, and sent in applications to three MFA programs. Why, yes! I am a spazz! Thank you for asking!
At any rate, the day after I’d paid all the application fees and sent away for my transcripts, I fixed the glitch and sent the novel off to my group, and then I had a ridiculously good HopBack beer and felt lighter than I’ve felt in months. I really like this manuscript, and think it has a good chance, but now I’ve got to wait a month until my critique group gets back to me with what they think.
Fortunately, it is now National Novel Writing Month. So this is what I’ll feel like for the rest of the month.
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Also, I went back to the gym for the first time since Ironman. I guess that should read, “I did something with my body for the first time since Ironman,” ‘cos I haven’t been a gym rat in ages.
At any rate, it’s now gorgeous, gorgeous fall, and I can start looking forward to winter pursuits. Yay!
That’s it for now. I need to be better about keeping up this thing. I always feel better after I’ve posted. Lugging too many memories around in my very small brain can’t be good for me.

Things I Acquired This Weekend

The Daily Life Text

BICYCLE!
Head and chest cold
Bruises
Questionable photographs
New vernacular

HOW does one acquire so many fabulous, varied, tangible and intangible things in the space of one weekend, you ask? The answer is simple: FAT TIRE NARNIA. What *is* Fat Tire Narnia?
Well. Let’s just say that it involves mountain bikes and the never-ending search for good places to ride. Yes, yes, I know I said, particularly after Isabella was stolen, that I really didn’t know if I was going back to mountain biking. i’d invested what I saw as a fair amount of time and never really gotten any better at it, after all. But then, see, Friday afternoon, we crossed the border into Massachusetts, and the leaves were gorgeous and crunchy, and somewhere deep in my physical memory there was a buried a sense of woods, trails, and the curious, fragrant crunch that occurs when you fall off your bike into a pile of soft, welcoming leaves. There was speed, and crisp, cool air, and the joy that comes from being out on your bike in the woods in the deep of the fall. It’s different from riding in the summer, you know. Anyway. Jim and I pulled into Colin and Carli’s house in the early afternoon, and we mucked about Melrose for a bit, getting to know the town. Chris came in later that evening, to a nice seafood dinner at Turner‘s and some nice local microbrews to boot, and then we all called it a night.
The next morning, after some faffing about buying groceries and getting fueled up with coffee and whatnot, we packed our cars and headed off to East Burke, Vermont, home of Kingdom Trails, only to get stuck in a lot of leaf-peeping traffic.
Here is proof of the pretty foliage.
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There are no pictures of awful leaf-peepers or the traffic they caused, ‘cos there were’t any when I took this photo. That’s ‘cos I figured out too late that the white screen my camera was showing was indicative of a smashed LCD, rendering my camera useless. So I pointed it around and took random photos of leaves, but it didn’t much feel right (my camera doesn’t have a viewfinder).
I took a bunch more like this:
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and then gave up. Sigh. Too bad, because there were some really good times that weekend. Good thing Boyd had a video camera, and Colin is an inveterate shutterbug.
Anyhow, we pulled into East Burke, Vermont at around 3:30 that afternoon, just enough time for the guys to squeeze in a late-afternoon ride, and Carli and I packed up Lily (Colin and Carli’s gorgeous little 3-year-old girl) and Sprocket and went off to the campsite to set up camp, but not before I looked shiftily at the local bike shop and tried to talk myself out of buying a bike right then and there.
At camp, Carli and I encountered several problems: the campground was shaped like a circle with a couple of off-shoots that we didn’t see at first, making finding our site a small adventure; Sprocket kept on trying to explore the greater area; the hammock Colin had thrown into the car at the last minute turned out to be not-a-hammock, the ground was almost too soft, so on, so forth. By the time we got everything set up, it was time to meet the boys back in town for dinner.
I just about made up my mind to get a damned bike when all three boys came rolling across the street on their bikes, covered in mud, faces covered in shit-eating grins the likes of which I’ve never seen, not even on athletes crossing the finish line after a long race. Cos, see, finishing a race is still work. There’s a very different feeling to doing something that you’re just good at, something that doesn’t involve winning, that just involves being out with friends and riding to your skill level.
We ate at the local pub, finding some terrific beers on tap and discovering the crap service that exists in a small town that revolves exclusively around mountain bikers and locals, and then we went back to camp to experience the hell that is starting a fire in damp weather.
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I put my Leatherman to good use (also, some handy skills that I picked up from watching Bear Grylls on TV–shut up), shaving wood into teeny tiny bits for tinder and then dumping the entire pile of shavings into the dirt just shy of the fire pit (blame too many micro-brews). At the end of the night, it fell to Jim to save the evening, since he apparently breathes sheer oxygen from his lungs, where the rest of us mere mortals exhale only a shallow mix of useless CO2 and other pointless gasses. At any rate, our dismal fire fell prey to the damp in the air and an eventual rain as we slept that night.

my hero!
my hero!

I woke up feeling groggy and snotty, but rallied enough to drag my arse up to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Sprocket came with me, hellbent on saying hello to whoever was in the bathroom stalls. Good thing mountain bikers have a good sense of humor. When I came back we’d decided on abandoning the oatmeal-in-a-camp-pan breakfast and settled on a hot breakfast somewhere in town, thereby putting me in striking distance of the bike shop again.
I wandered in with our friends, trying to stay casual, loose, but then I found a real steal, and, bolstered by four people who clearly weren’t going to let me out of there without a bike anyway, I walked out with a ride I really like, a new pair of shoes, pedals, and cleats, all for a nice price.
Carli and I left the boys for a ride while we drove Lily into the neighboring towns, hoping to get her to sleep, and then we went back to camp for lunch and then geared up for our own ride.
Colin, Chris, and Jim returned with predictable shit-eating grins again, and we suited up, left Sprocket and Lily with Colin, and proceeded on our own ride.
It was a sheer joy being back on the bike again. There’s nothing really unrideable, even for me, about the trails at Kingdom Trails, and I’m hoping that we’ll go again before the season’s out. I executed one stunning crash on a run that involved some banked berms and chose to peg-leg my way down the rest of the trail, but that’s OK–I’ll get better as time goes on.
The rest of the afternoon’s kind of a blur. Our time on the trails went by in a ridiculous flash, all woods, leaves, laughing, and Carli taking out a small defenseless tree, and then we headed off to dinner in a neighboring town and back to the campsite, where the fire lit successfully and we chatted into the night.
It was a terrific trip. There is something really cool about getting together with people you don’t really know, making that leap into friendship, committing yourself fully to an experiment, only to find a good match all around. Lots of laughs and automatic inside jokes, things that can’t be posted here because they won’t make sense to anyone else.
For Jim, I think it was an extra-sweet trip. We know only a select number of people who can keep up with him on a mountain bike, and while he always enjoys riding with me or our mutual friends, it’s not the same as actively pushing your partners–and being pushed–while still having a great time. Onward and forward, to the next Fat Tire Narnia.

Great beer: Switchback, Trout River, Magic Hat, Flying Dog, Dogfishhead

Great food: Poutine! Poutine! Poutine!!! Powerfood on a plate!!

P.S. Congratulations to Laini Taylor, whose book Lips Touch is a National Book Award finalist.

They do things that they’d never do on Broadway…

The Daily Life Text

I am fighting some kind of wacked-out head and chest cold. It is making my thought process fuzzy, but perhaps that’s more the incredibly long weekend I had.
It started on a Wednesday, you see, with some visits with old friends from college and one much more recently and regularly in touch. With the former I’ve kept in only spotty touch, but the latter’s been on and off, sharing adventures and catching up every once in a while. Really, really nice. Breakfast with one, lunch with the other, and, shock of shocks, when I stepped to have lunch with Kate and spotted her jotting thoughts down in a journal, I became instantly aware that I don’t do this myself anymore, if at all. I carry around a notebook that I use to write, uh, notes in, but I’m nowhere near the pages I used to collect for myself each day, noting down minutiae of thought and occurrence. Oh well. It doesn’t fit my current life, quite possibly because I’m spending much more time at TheGoodDirt.
Anyway. I then went to my favorite airport terminal in the world to catch my afternoon flight to Chicago’s Midway, where I took notice once again of the awesome depth model of Lake Michigan, and, also, noted this:
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It’s an enormous bird, made of tiny, tiny aircraft. Here:
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But the crowning grace of this work, which hangs suspended from the ceiling at Midway, is the silhouette that the bird casts, which is made of the weights that hold the artwork in place.
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Can you make out the silhouette? It’s an airplane. Very, very cool.
Anyway. It was a minor thing to get from Orange Line to Brown line and back home to Dan’s, where I was staying for the night, and where he’d offered to host me and Audrey in an eerie reprise of many, many evenings we’d spent previously at Dan’s house, before Jim and I moved. It felt curiously like nothing had changed, except that I was walking around in a pair of boots that I’d ordinarily never wear to Dan’s house because I know he’s got a loose shoes-off rule in the house, and who wants to deal with mucking around in boots just to take ’em off?
Er. Dinner that night was a casual affair, with pizza from Art of Pizza next door and some glasses of wine, and then it was off to much-needed sleep.
Thursday was breakfast with Kristin, which was really nice, and felt, once again, as if I’d never left; then lunch and an exploration of the Art Institute with cousin John, who’s starting his first semester of law school at Northwestern.
I never tire of the Art Institute, and if I feel as if they’ve done the place a minor disservice with the installation of a new wing that feels kind of ordinary, well, it’s the art that makes the place, anyway.
Took this picture of John and myself in the reflection of the Bean, which makes me laugh every time I look at it.
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I zipped up to my old neighborhood, had a quick visit of the Southport stores, and then went to Tabitha‘s place to meet my wonderful, wonderful critique group. Here they are. I can’t believe we’ve been meeting forever and that this is my only photo of them. DSC00327
We took a look at Tabitha’s next work, which is quite good and on its way to being something much, much bigger. I am remiss in not mentioning here that Tabitha has secured an agent for the first work she had us critique, Royal Rose. Needless to say, I am stupid proud of her and equally, stupidly, keep on repeating, in her company, “SQUEEEE! You have an agent!”
Anyway. I’m up next, again. It’s a freak proposition that I’ll have this thing where I want it to be in time for our next meeting.
I went out to meet friends for drinks afterwards, again in my old neighborhood, and had a wicked good time at our old haunt, Gurthrie’s.
Crashed into Dan’s place and woke up for breakfast the next day at the lovely Tre Kroner, where I had terrific Corned Beef Hash and eggs and good coffee, and then it was off to meet Abby for lunch and David for tea and then home for a quick kip on the couch, and then off to Lisa and Ron‘s to meet up with Kristin, Audrey, Bonnie, and Jim for dinner at Babareeba, where they did absolutely right by us and set us up with a nice corner table, two pitchers of sangria, plenty of tapas, and a full round of desserts for a ridiculously small price. The conversation was terrifically good, and I’ve never been prouder to see such different people all at one table.
I often say that I’m proud of my friends, happy to endorse any one of them, but this really took the cake: Conversation never lagged, and yet, all of these people come from different walks of life. Really, really precious, to be sitting among all of the smarts, and know that these brilliant people consider me a friend.
[/End Schmaltz]
Next morning it was off to meet Tab at her place for a conversation on a potential class we’d like to jointly teach, her in Chicago and me here, and bat around ideas in her gorgeous little penthouse office, way in the trees at the top of their home. Sigh.
Then, after lunch with Alexe and Mike and Baby Kai, we were off to Ed and Kathleen’s wedding, which was, ostensibly, the reason for coming into town in the first place.
They were crazy busy, but not too busy that they couldn’t take the time to say hello and look thrilled and point us out to the friends they thought we needed to be in touch with. We love Ed and Kathleen, have I ever said? It’s funny how a scant year of living in the same house can make people fast friends or true enemies. We’re lucky to have stumbled upon the former in many situations, but truly lucky to count Ed and Kathleen as good friends, people we’d expect to hear from if things went pear-shaped, and who’d we’d expect to be able to call on if they went cock-eyed on this end.
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Here I find myself all emotionally verklempt over the fact that Chicago is truly a great city, where we had great friends, and must exit for a Kleenex, but not before mentioning that I had breakfast with the very cheery, insightful Bevin the next morning before flying home. Lovely way to cap a really, really great weekend. More later.
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Day of Birth, Girls’ Night Out, and the Weekend of Bad Photos and Gorgeous Houses

The Daily Life Text

Oh my, oh my. What a week.

I turned 35 last Tuesday and did it in the company of some good friends, some I hadn’t seen in a year or so. It was a terrific evening: Jody and I saw a movie that a friend produced, and then hopped into a taxi cab to meet up with some old friends.

Girls' Night Out, the reprise
Girls' Night Out, the reprise

We met up at a funny little bar called Three Steps that was very sweet and came with its own hound. [Who’m I kidding? This is not a hound. This is some kind of Roomba creature. I know this because it spent most of the night trolling the floor, looking for bits of the pizza we ordered.]

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Shortly after (okay, three hours later) we dragged ourselves to the Campbell Apartment, where this happened:

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And this:

DSC00306What’s that? You want to know what’s happening there? I’ll tell ya: Our girl Jen landed herself in a Reuters photo, is what. Jen got laid off on a Monday, made a sign, and ended up all over the newswaves the rest of the week. Way cool. I hope this will help her to land a job soon. She deserves it.

Tuesday and Wednesday were ShelterBox days for me. The CEO of our little NGO was in town, and I accompanied him on a little junket that involved some speaking and socializing and meeting. It’s always nice to get the head honcho’s point of view about the future of the team you volunteer for. Even cooler, Tom’s just won the Alternative Rich List, an award given to honor those whose wealth is measured in terms of what they’ve given to society. Very cool. Over the course of our three days together, we met some people who seemed truly stunned by what we do. Someone even told me that what we do elevates us to the status of angels. I’m not willing to go that far–it’s just a fact of life, isn’t it, that some of us are driven to do this work and others aren’t, and that’s OK. To call me an unearthly being was jarring, to say the least, and humbling, at best.

Couple that with a visit from my girl Jody, newly re-arrived from Boise, and you get a whirlwind three days. It was just the way I like to lead some of my days: hardly room enough to breathe, capping evenings with good company from friends. Wonderful.

On Friday Jim and I went to Rhode Island to visit the Newport Mansions. Here’s one of them, the Elms.

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D’you see the massive shadow of the tree taking over the lower half of the photo? That’s a weeping beech. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:

This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.
This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.

Seeing the houses was bittersweet for me. I fully believe–and intend to–have a home as expansive as the ones we saw in Newport, but I’m fully aware that I need to make a lot more money–and have a lot more diligence–before I can have one. I don’t mean to say that I want something that’s 70,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, I just mean that I want something that feels as open, something where all of my friends come and visit and see it as a place to relax and be happy. I’ve written before about this. I won’t bore you with it again, but I will say that I’ve added one more requirement to the list: A big lawn, I think. Croquet is in order!

Jim and I tried–and failed again–at the fishbowl photo. Jim looks increasingly consternated in these things. I think we’d better try another tack. P9190136We spent the later part of the day wandering the grounds of The Elms, and discovered this scary-looking statuary.

P9190133I mean, hello?? This is a lion, attacking an alligator. What does this mean? Let us take a closer look at the struggling alligator. P9190134Why? Also, is it an alligator or a crocodile? If it is an alligator, than the bronze thing above it is a puma or a panther or some sort. If it is a crocodile, the thing is a lion. Because, well, alligators live in Florida. Lions do not live in Florida. I am so confused. Mostly because, well, why would you want to have such a sculpture in your yard??? The other one, on the other side of the yard to preserve symmetry, is a lionness with a dangling limp turkey from her mouth. (Or is it a vulture? ‘Cos, you know…) Ugh.

And then we saw this:

P9190139This is s horse with webbed feet. I know there is some mythological thing going on here, but I am refusing to entertain it, mostly because the faun on the side of the fountain scared me with his wide-open mouth and scary singing technique. Or maybe I was just distracted by the other fountain, with the woman proudly squirting water from her melons. Yes, you read right. Oh, those crazy American industrialists.

Actually, the whole weekend was very interesting. I learned a lot about some very ballsy women, which was cool, women who weren’t exactly happy with their lots in life, despite having tons of money. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, who kept scullery maids but who was a champion of women’s suffrage, and her daughter, Consuelo, who agreed not at all with her mother’s decorating sense and went on, like her mother, to divorce her first husband. And then there was Gertrude Vanderbilt, who grew up wealthy but who wondered if anyone would ever love her for anything but her money. Tragic, in their own ways. Definitely worth reading up on later.

On Saturday night Jim took me to dinner at the White Horse Tavern.

P9190141It’s rumored that there’s a ghost in here, but I didn’t see him, even after a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Really nice meal. We’ll come back, if we can.

Here’s one final photo from the weekend, ‘cos I did name this post “Bad Photos,” after all.

P9190146See? All blurry! Argh!

Labor Day shenanigans

The Daily Life Text

The perils of coming home from a long trip abroad on the eve of a long weekend are such: wasted hours sleeping; hours spent half-awake; susceptibility and a remarkable weakness toward the suggestion to drink. Witness last night’s labor-day BBQ at Stuart and Mhairi’s, which involved haggis burgers and a fair amount of single-malt Scotch. This is what happens when you party with the Craigs.
Here is proof:

The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!
The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!

Here is proof that there were at least five Scotch bottles out. Kara left early. More came out after her departure. We broke a lot of corks and endured the Wrath of Stuart, but I think everything was OK in the end.
I'm not sure what that look is.
I'm not sure what that look is.

We went to the lovely township of Bath, ME on Friday morning, and stayed at the really lovely Fairhaven Inn. Our room, at the top of the stairs, was nice but a little bit stuffy, and if the little perks you expect from a B&B were somewhat minimal (honor system for sodas and bottled water; popcorn microwaved instead of fresh; coffee in the break room instant; powdered creamer for said coffee), well, it was Labor Day weekend and there were only two families staying there. I wonder if it’s any more exciting in the winter. Anyway, breakfast was nice and we had good company in the form of a couple from New Jersey who I hope we’ll see again.
And the light in the mornings at this place was beautiful.
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We were in Bath to see my old friend Julia get married. It’s been a long road for Jules, and I’m proud of her and of the fact tht our friendship has seen us through so many changes. I never feel like I have to “catch up” with Julia. it’s always like it’s always been. That’s a nice thing. That, and I love Julia’s parents, so it was nice to see them, and her sister Anne as well.
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!

Here are Jim and I, fishbowling. Jim has very long arms. I am clearly in disbelief.
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!

In the sitting room of the B&B we found a relative of Sprocket.
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He was not amused.
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Er. More later. On ShelterBox, yes, yes.

Irvine Hills hillbilly

The Daily Life Text

…No, not really. My little cousin Adrianna is here this week. It’s her first time in New York. I do love showing folks around this place.
Her first full day here, we went down into the city at a reasonably late hour and met Larry for lunch. His office is in one of my favorite buildings in New York, The Chrysler building. It was so nice to see it again, and have an excuse to ride the elevators, and be in all that Art Deco glory. Clearly Adrianna was less enthralled than I was–I mean, most people would be.
Larry loves his family’s family’s history. He’s taken the extra step of letting folks in on it, which is how we got to hear about his grandfather, who lost a leg in the war and spent the rest of his life as a model for war and post-war efforts. This is Larry with a blowup of one of those ads.

Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.
Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.

After a quick lunch, Adri and I wandered up to see the U.N., where it was too hot to take photos and I once again admired the architecture (are you getting the idea that this tour is more about me than my guest?) and then we walked over to Fifth Avenue and down it for a skosh before hopping into a cab to meet Anna at Penn Station.
From there we walked down to Chelsea, admiring things in shop windows and searching for frozen yogurt, and then I took them to Brooklyn Industries and we took a bus over to Chelsea Piers for a terrific boat cruise around the lower end of Manhattan, almost up the other side to the Queensboro bridge. I didn’t know this until we got there, but it’s run by the same company that did me and Jim’s goodbye party from New York in 2005 and a Girls’ Night Out event. Love, love, love them.
Here is a nice photo of Adri, me, and Anna.
When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!
When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!

Adrianna was a little seasick. Evidence is here, in this photo, and the ensuing six others, that she took of various sights from exactly this viewpoint.
I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.
I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.

From there we walked down the West Side Highway to get to the High Line Park, which was something I’d wanted to show Adrianna anyway, and then we walked over to meet Jim and Denise for dinner at the very nicely appointed Safran. Here’s a photo of Anna and Adri at the High Line.
My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.
My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.

I just loved this park. I was sorry to have missed the Renegade Cabaret, a thing started by a woman whose apartment overlooked the High Line in its abandoned glory for just about ever. When she realized that people could actually see into her apartment, right up to the laundry she was hanging on her balcony, she invited a friend over, a singer, to belt out a couple of tunes. You only get the tunes if her party lanterns are hanging out. Alas, they were not out, and we did not get our evening concert at the cabaret.
On the way back to Grand Central from the restaurant, however, we did get to see two different musical acts. This one, in an abandoned clothing retailer , was particularly charming. In fact, the fact that we were separated from the music by the glass doors made it sound very ethereal. You had to put your ear to the crack to hear it, and there were several of us, whispering so that we could get the most out of it.
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Adrianna was in town by herself yesterday with a classmate of hers, so today will be my second day with her. We’re getting a nice tour of the American Museum of Natural History for an old high-school mate of mine, who’s a librarian there, so we’re both looking forward to that. And then, after dinner with said pal, we’re off to a singer-songwriter friend‘s birthday party. Yay!

iron stuff in my grey matter

The Daily Life Text

For the longest time I thought I’d feel good about completing Ironman, and not in the traditional manner of having done something big and unprecedented for myself. More, I thought I’d be relieved to have Ironman training go away completely, have it be not a part of my life any more. I have been, up until very recently, quite annoyed at the intrusion that training places on my life: the skimpy weekends, the lack of freedom dictated by a need to be physically more than I’ve ever been before, the other various constraints that are too many to enumerate.
But now that it’s really and truly all over; now that I’ve told my coach I’m done and that I’m wearing a real, true finisher’s shirt for Ironman Switzerland 2009, I feel quite bereft, and rudderless. Lara and I spent some time mucking around town the day after the triathlon, and at some point she heaved a great big sigh and said, “Eurgh. Post-race blues.” I didn’t have them at the time, but I’ve got them in full force now.
Part of it, I’m sure, is the letdown after all the intensity that comes with a full-fledged race like this. For a really long time over one day you are giving your all, even if it’s just your physical all. And then there is the immediate gratification: I can’t really describe to you what Heartbreak Hill felt like; how I couldn’t even feel my legs as I entered the finish chute and put on my ShelterBox T-shirt; how I couldn’t feel anything but the stupidly enormous grin on my face as I bolted around the last few turns to the finish line and lifted my arms high in a cliché gesture of victory. You wouldn’t know any of these things unless you’d experienced them for yourself, but I’m sure you’ve experienced something very like it.
There is, also, a remarkably heightened sense of community. As I was setting about the marathon leg of my race, tired and cranky, and falling asleep, I thought angrily to myself that the Ironman organization could do more for charity, and that I’d never do a race like this again unless I could do it as part of a team and for charity. Then I thought that nothing about Ironman meshed with my own personal ethics: there was no sense of team in this event, no sense of helping others; no sense of collective giving. I needed more, I thought; than the mere punishment of oneself for a solid sixteen hours. I watched athletes willy-nilly chuck their garbage everywhere, felt them elbow past me during the run in order to accomplish their own personal goals, and harbored a clear revulsion at their lack of grace.
But then, as the daylight waned and the hours grew on and I came dangerously close to not becoming an Ironman, I noticed something curious: people wearing finisher’s T-shirts, all along the course, straining to sound out my name, written on my bib. They give me all the motivation they could. The encouragement came in many forms: One man, sitting on a park bench, botched my name and then chased after me, calling what he thought would be the correct name: “Go, Go, Yie Shoon! Allez, allez!” He got it right the second time he saw me. A man on a bicycle with a light on it pedaled slowly next to me, blocking me from veering off the trail in a dark section of the woods, talking me down from the rising panic in my chest that I wouldn’t make it. “You’re moving at a perfect pace for this,” he said. “You’ll make it, you’ve found this pace, now just keep it and you will be okay.” A young woman leaning on one of the barriers down the final stretch of my next-to-last lap looked at me, eyes limpid and wide. She shook her head at the limp in my crooked gait, presumably. “Go, Iron girl,” she said, quietly, evenly, and I could sense her empathy, even in those three small words.
And then I crossed the finish line, and I became a group of selective individuals. You only get the finisher’s shirt, a bright red-and-white number, if you cross the line on time, and I have one now. It’s taken me until today, three days after the race, to realize what a feat it is to cover 140.6 miles by swim, bike, and run, but the significance of the community of Ironman, which I’d have never thought existed, began to strike me right away. I creaked ever so slowly away from the finish chute and had to be guided by my shoulders to get my medal and then my photo taken, but no one laughed at my hitched walk or thought my bent posture bizarre. They all knew what I’d done, even if I didn’t, yet.
At breakfast the next morning, we spotted other red shirts right away, and got to rehash the race from lots of different perspectives. We got random congratulations walking down the street. At dinner, someone also wearing an Ironman finisher shirt spotted us from far away and lifted his beer glass to us in silent recognition. And this morning, at the airport, while I slumped over my bike box trying not to fall asleep, a man idly standing by made a downward moue with his mouth and nodded slowly, lifting his eyebrows. I ignored him, thinking him just a perv of some kind, but he pointed with his chin at my chest and said, “Congratulations!” And I thought, “Ohhhhhhh…” It turned out he’d done six. We stood and chatted for awhile, and I enjoyed the company.
I suppose, as with many things in life, it’s only through others’ eyes that I can recognize the enormity of whatever accomplishment it is.
I find myself wondering now how many of us there are in this community, and interested in the fact that I’ve always wanted to be a member of some kind of insider’s club. I didn’t know what it would mean to be a part of one, and now I know. I mean, I just kind of fell into this thing, didn’t I? Lara wanted to do an Ironman, and I said okay. Jim said he’d do it with us, and together we made up a kind of small team of sorts. I added ShelterBox to the mix, and Lara added the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and that gave me the added boost I needed to make it feel as if this sport were something more than self-indulgent.
My friend John, also a ShelterBox Response Team member, said it best. He wrote me that I would use the confidence I’d gained in completing the Ironman to forward myself in whatever I wanted to do. I suppose I’m a few days late in really taking his words to heart, but I finally understand them now. Ironman is just a stepping stone, although I must not allow myself to believe for a second that it was easy, or that anyone could do it without discipline, grace, and a mad level of desire.
Will I do another one? Not without a solid team and a very good reason. Am I glad I did? Yes, yes, I am. I do not regret a minute spent training, any step of the journey, or even the missed nights of sleep. Every bit added to the final experience, which I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Am I getting a tattoo? Heck, yes. I will wear it proudly. I hope the other members of my little team will get them too.

Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I (pre-race days)

The Daily Life Text

…Me, Jim, and Lara, respectively, that is.

It’s over. Almost exactly 24 hours ago to the minute, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Switzerland 2009, and I must confess to harboring all sorts of unresolved emotions about the thing. I am proud of my friends and eternally grateful to Jim’s parents for coming all the way out to see us, and very happy that I was able to raise enough money for ShelterBox to house thirty more people after disaster–but I’m no closer to understanding why we pursue such sport, which I think is the reason I keep on seeking out more and more of these different challenges.

But you didn’t come here to read about that, just yet: You came to get a race report.

We deliberately booked our flights to Switzerland to arrive well ahead of race day. We had a sleepless night on an airplane, punctuated very frequently by the drunk yellings of the under-age tippler sititng just in front of us (that’s another story), and landed in beautiful Zurich on a cloudy day punctuated also very frequently by rain showers. Jim and I looked thoughtfully at the thunderous sky and wondered if race day would look like that. We hoped not.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.
My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.
ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms
ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

We spent that morning wandering around town with Jim’s parents after we’d checked into the wonderful, very accomodating Comfort Inn Royal, which would be our home for the next week, and had breakfast. Zurich is a beautiful town. Have you ever been there? Still, the race course hadn’t been set up yet, and the streets seemed very empty for a Thursday morning–we wondered where everyone was.

Marilyn and Jim, Jim’s parents, had done a fair amount of research already, so we’d left much of the tourist planning to them, and I’m fairly certain that, without me knowing it, set the tone for the trip. We were there to race, and that was the bottom line. I suppose it’s always been that way, but being in one of my favorite places and not mucking around, looking at art stuff, was a distinct change of pace.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.
Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

We came back to the hotel, crashed hard, had dinner out at a great place that Grant and Jill recommended, and then went back for a good night’s sleep.

Yeah. It worked for Jim. Not so much for me. We went to bed at about 10, and I woke up around midnight, stark raving awake and unable to go back to sleep until four. I woke up again around seven. All in all, not terrible odds, really.

We went down on our bikes for our first look at Ironman Village, and noticed that Zurich is extremely bike-and-pedestrain friendly.

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You can't see it against the white, but the bottom of the sign has a bicycle icon on it. Parking, reserved just for bikes. Who'd'a thunkit?

We went and looked at all of the Ironman-branded kit, but I refused to buy (it seemed pre-mature to me, really, to get the stuff before I even attempted a full Ironman), but something unpleasant was around the corner was awaiting me, and I ought to have bought something just to assuage the agony I felt on registering and signing all the proper documents, only to get this in my official race documentation:

harumph!
harumph!

Yeah, what the hell?! Not that I haven’t sent roughly, oh, I dunno, three e-mails telling them to FIX THE PROBLEM. I’m still “Shun.” I fixed it myself with a big black marker and walked away with Jim, registration done with.

Lara arrived later that day, and she and I scooted along to the pre-race meeting, taking the tram down and enjoying the nice ride along Zurich’s high-end brand-name boutique road. We caught up along the way and went into the big tent and listened somewhat half-heartedly to some information that we already knew and some very little we didn’t, while I scanned the crowd, looking for Jim. We finally found him, and looked around the Expo for some last-minute stuff. From there, Jim and Lara went to go listen to some alpenhorn schlock and I went off to meet some awesome ShelterBox peeps who run our Switzerland affiliate. The group here in Zurich is run by some very cool, very enthusiastic 30-something Rotaractors, and I was happy to spend the evening talking to them about ShelterBox and the SRT program, and getting to know them all. Highly enjoyable way to pass time.

Saturday morning dawned way too early. I once again went to sleep at 11:30, only to pop awake at midnight. I stared at the ceiling until 4:30 and slept until 8, when it was time to go to breakfast. I promptly threw a tantrum of a most unsatisfying sort, moaning that I desperately needed more sleep, and that this was no way to run a race. Breakfast with friends, however, fixed it, especially after Lara tried to eat an egg, entertaining me with her ill-fated attempts to peel it properly.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.
Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

We had a really nice day at the Ironman grounds again, racking our bikes and chatting with other racers, and I began to realize that this was actually happening. After a too-long walk home, we caught a tram to meet Roj, Lara’s husband, who was in town to watch the race, for dinner, and it was shortly afterwards that I discovered I’d misplaced my wallet. Yes, that lovely Braithwaite dealio I bought awhile ago. I can’t for the life of me figure how it happened. I can only think that the lack of sleep combined with juggling a number of things in my hands resulted in the loss. I’m quite bereft. But that’s another entry.

Anyway, it was already 8PM. We needed to sleep. Ironman was the next day, and I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.

A triathlon primer

The Daily Life Text

I’ve been involved in multi-sport since 2001, and started doing triathlons back in 2003 as part of a project to get more urban women involved in outdoor sport (“Yes! You *can* have a two-martini dinner and still go for a five-mile run when you get home!”)
At any rate, navigating some of the terminology in triathlon is one of the things I remember doing first, so let’s start from the very beginning.

Base Definition
Technically, a triathlon is any sport that involves three sports, much the way that a biathlon can be anything from a cross-country-skiing-and-shooting-fest to a run-bike-run. But, strictly speaking, triathlon is typically defined as swim-bike-run, in that order.
sbr
(Cartoon images help me to remember which order events are in a tri.)

That Whole “Ironman” Thing
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, when I’m doing an Ironman, “Wait, a full one?” Sometimes I get the same question when I tell people I’m doing a triathlon. Anything less than a full triathlon would be a bi-athlon, or a running or swimming or biking race. And anything less than an Ironman is a half-Ironman or an Olympic distance or a sprint race. (More on those later.) The term “triathlon” is not interchangeable with “Ironman.”
There is some controversy about the Ironman branding. I was very disappointed to realize that, since the people behind the Ironman brand also operate events at the half-Ironman distance, they are extending the Ironman name to that distance. They’re calling it “70.3” instead (the full distance behind an Ironman is 140.6 miles, exactly), so as not to dilute the brand of “Ironman,” I suppose, but I believe it’s backfired: Now, you can say you’ve done an “Ironman” if you did an Ironman-branded 70.3 event. They encourage it. I find it annoying. I don’t like the idea of making it sound as if I’ve done something I haven’t. For me, that will all change this year once I cross the finish line at Ironman Switzerland, and I suppose that, in the future, the collective memory will forget that Ironman once meant one specific thing, but…eurgh.
Anyway.
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(This logo is fraught with controversy. Okay, just in my head.)

The Distances
Remember a couple of days ago, when I was geeking out to the math involved in a triathlon? Get ready for some more geekspeak.
In order, from shortest to longest, the triathlons are: sprint; Olympic (or International); Half-Ironman (or “middle-distance”); Ironman. Here are the distance breakdowns:
Sprint
Swim: 400-800 yards (0.25-0.5 mile)
Bike: 13 miles
Run: 3.1 miles

Olympic (International)
Swim: .93 miles
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 6.2 miles

Half-Ironman (Middle)
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Run: 13.1 miles

Ironman
Swim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2

How to Get Started
Start small. Find a friendly local race to train for. Enlist some friends to train with you and race with you. Enjoy the process, as you become competent in several disciplines as once and gain confidence and strength. Swim outdoors when you can. There are a ton of training programs online. I used Trinewbies.com for awhile and enjoyed it.
team-divas-05
(These are the girls who were in my virtual network for awhile. Loved doing a triathlon with them.)
Next, shop. Yes, do get triathlon-specific items. You could spend a ton of money, but you don’t have to: invest in a pair of triathlon shorts that will take you straight from swim to bike and through the run. A wetsuit, if your chosen triathlon requires it, or if you live in a colder-weather clime.

Next, set some goals. They can be anything: weight loss; time spent outdoors; a time goal. Just pick something and stick to it.

Finally, pick a nice, casual restaurant in which to celebrate your first triathlon. If you don’t finish the race feeling good enough to have a margarita (okay, I’ll admit this is my own personal benchmark), then…well, try again. Then repeat.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk some about the specific legs of a race.