Category Archives: life

Gravity Happens

The earth sometimes pulls you back down to terra firma. Taking my third-time-ever spin class this week did so to me. I’ve found, for the most part, I dislike group exercise. In fact, I’ve decided going solo is a comforting although often lonesome endeavor.

Being the oldest and probably physically weakest person on a stationary bike in that class felt humiliating. The odd-woman out, which I feel on a day-to-day basis at work enough as it is. Yes — I project this title onto myself — but need to own that feeling to process and get past it.

Maybe I’m meant to be on an outdoor trail instead, regardless of the falling temperatures in the Midwest. It’s important to be receptive to change, as it’s the only constant in life. Period.

A temperate day brought me there yesterday, to a wonderfully maintained trail near our suburban neighborhood, albeit with a wipeout on the fallen leaves from over-confidence in my downhill speed. The universe reminded me of my limitations once again when I drifted sideways and landed squarely on my shoulder and hip. More importantly, though, I got back up and continued. IMG_2167

Doing so brought me to a beautiful creek where I got to sit and listen to gravity take the stream down to the lake and renew my mind, if only for the moment. Much like in life, the coast comes with the climb, and the spin accompanies the grind. But I can do that. I can stand up on my pedals to get up the hills even if I’m not feeling that stand in a spin class.

I try to remind myself how the sun will always eventually break through the clouds even if the momentary voices in my head are the most formidable force I face. It’s always darkest before the dawn, as the tired saying goes.

So my search for a way to feel grateful continues. Each moment of positivity in getting there is a tiny piece of grace I welcome.

IMG_2183

 

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Stuck

1 stone

A smattering of gravestones eventually became a constant barrage of cemeteries noticed, seemingly at every turn, markers practically jumped out in front of her car. Death brings an overwhelming sense of immediacy, an obsession with its existence, the frightening inevitability of everyone’s ultimate fate. 

She looked at the chiselled names, hoping to memorize a few so those people’s existence could mean something to someone else beyond their own families. They were here. They mattered.

And her mother’s absence might feel a little less heavy. Maybe she could obsess just a tiny bit less than she did yesterday. And every day.

 

100-word challenge:  obsession 100-word-challenge

 

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Tour de Bass

My “getting off the couch and moving” effort began back in April when I decide to bike for MS. Joedie, a friend and former co-worker, bravely face her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, so I dedicated my ride to her. I want to live in gratitude that I’m healthy and mobile and beg the universe I can stay that way as long as possible. The aging process brings about such obvious yet scary realities. 

ride signThis final bike marathon for the year played out in the form of an intended 28-mile route on a dreary morning I embarked on before the October sunrise last Sunday. 

Lesson one:  download the GPS ahead of time 

Lesson two:  download the planned 28-mile route 

These two important strategies for success are especially important when cycling without a partner. My lack of technological preparation led me to three misdirections resulting in seven and a half extra miles traversed along the way. The first mis-step occurred at the half-way point when I continued the path that was actually the 50-mile route. Imagine my shame at having a septuagenarian recommend the GPS app. 

ride selfieMy second mistake came from following what I thought were road markings through a random neighborhood. The automated “ding” warned of my being off-route, but I thought I knew better. Thank goodness I saw two other stragglers who also turned around at the rest stop in an effort to bypass impending rain. They soon lost me in their proverbial dust, and I then failed to notice the street marking recommended by the aforementioned GPS voice. 

Lesson three:  Follow the GPS route

Much to my chagrin, the rain descended just before I heard someone bellow from behind about my missing that turn. I loathe feeling helpless. I can’t stand to ask a man for directions. And both happened. A self-reliant life spent being stubbornly independent brought me to this moment.

I now call what happened “being swept,” as the guy who found me off-course said he was running “sweep” for people who’d lost their way … like me. Being humble means relenting my control, learning my error (or in this case, errors), and realizing I need help sometimes. Which I absolutely HATE! 

ride store The future will tell if I have any more bike races in me. I say that because 52 feels very old on the saddle when it’s raining. My left quad muscles exclaims that sentiment to me vehemently while I’m at it. My own inner monologue is the toughest thing to beat, but playing music on a wi-fi speaker in my water bottle holder helps draw me out of my head. 

Lesson four:  Keep spinning

I call it “embracing the suck,” meaning no matter if your Hello Kitty socks are sopping wet and you’re riding into or somehow against the wind’s direction, you keep going because the end is inevitable. You might feel like shit on the side of the road, but the wheels must keep moving. You’ll get there one way or another, so you may as well go laughing (even at yourself) and singing your favorite song.

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Averting a Mid-life Crisis

black-eyed susans

All along I’d told myself not to measure the effort only by mileage. Yet that last 17 miles was perhaps the toughest thing I’ve ever physically done. It came after, as I later reflected with astonishment, I heard myself say, “There’s only 17 miles left?” I finished day one of the Bike MS Ozarks, so that’s what I consider a half-marathon completed at my own power on a bicycle on a very humid 90+ degree day up and down some hellacious Ozark hills. 

Mentally floundering after that treacherous incline just before rest stop #5 where my husband and son were working, the most fun one with shaved ice, bubble machines, donuts I couldn’t stomach by then, and loud music — which my team sponsored and posted wonderfully signs to that point — I was ready to quit. Stop. Finito. Done. I’ve never been so grateful for calories in my life. Peanut butter and cherry Kool-Aid, go figure. 

I met an amazing 62-year old woman along the way who’d taken this journey 20 times previously. She, honestly, is what got me through that last 17 miles. I’d listened to my music, gotten emotional a few times, doubted myself, gotten mad, swore profusely several times. You know, much like I do life itself. My new acquaintance talked me off the proverbial cliff to make me finish, though. 

Emmy asked me if I was okay right before the last quarter-mile, to which I replied, “I think I’m gonna throw up.” A bright orange balloon arch loomed in the distance, and she asked me, “You see that? That’s the end. You throw up at the finish line.” 

complaining

Laughter is what it took to get me to that end. I thought I lost her after crossing it, that maybe she’d traversed my imagination as an apparition, but she showed up a bit later, showered and still supportive. This existence is funny. I’m still in awe of how we meet the right people at the right time to help us cope and conquer.  

biking reality

How did Kezia talk me into this thing?

Alas, I finished the first day and clocked 79 miles all told. Just day one, but that doesn’t matter. My personal goal was attained. I’ve kept mentally repeating that I’m getting stronger, physically and mentally, throughout. Now it’s time to maintain that momentum. 

The next leg of that metaphysical journey happens this weekend in another, much shorter, bike ride. Oddly enough, I’ve even looked up a local spin class option for the late autumn and winter months. My hope is to keep these endorphins flowing. 

difference

Possibilities, possibilities. 

 

Back where it all began:

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/09/04/full-of-something-maybe-metaphors/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/08/26/too-close-for-comfort-aka-dos-and-donts/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/08/04/practicing-gratitude/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/07/23/flat-straightaways-easy/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/07/11/back-in-the-saddle/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/07/04/lets-get-fired-up/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/06/22/what-else-can-we-do/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/06/14/ebony-irony/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/06/03/farm-road-wisdom/

 

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Raising Cain

Apple pie with pecan nuts

Grandma made them all aprons as a gift, like they’d one day become domesticated. It just wasn’t in the cards, though, much to their father’s surprise. The troika instead grew into independent non-cooks and bakers who didn’t fastidiously keep house. With better things to do, nary a homemade muffin would emerge from their ovens. 

“If that shit’s going to get done, hubs can do it himself. Make his own damn sammich,” the youngest protested. “He’s got two hands.”

No wonder Mrs. Bray warned her mother at first-grade parent-teacher conferences, “I can just hear her griping at her husband one day.” 

100-word challenge prompt:  homemade

100-word-challenge

photo:  Marco Verch via Flickr

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Out on the town

ale

Beside herself with excitement, Teresa’s group stopped at Willie’s for tacos before going to their hotel on her first trip to the state capital for work. 

“I’d like an ice cold beer,” she drawled. “Listen, y’all … this is my first rodeo. All we have for drive-through in Delmar is Windy’s and McDugal’s. Know what I mean?”

A bit chagrinned at her naivete, Teresa’s co-workers stared at their menus, embarrassed. She was all smiles, though.

“Don’t judge! My husband greased up the bars some to let me out for this little jaunt. Otherwise keeps me at home all the time.” 

100-word Challenge: listen

100-word-challenge

photo credit: Dennis Sylvester Hurd via Flickr

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Full of something … maybe metaphors

curved road

I find myself coming somewhat full-circle, or perhaps at least semi-circle, on these training rides. Now I feel like I can actually say “training” instead of “so-called training” because doing what I’ve been doing is preparation for what lies ahead this weekend.

Monday, my 52nd birthday, I found myself laughing instead of “riding negative. I had to snicker upon hearing Mike D. rap on my playlist about letting the beat drop at the exact spot where I did that earlier this summer. I fell off my then-new road bike onto the pavement, though it’s been a minute since that happened, and howled at my own expense.

I’ve been learning along the way. First of all, there’s a process to watching what I’m doing instead of worrying so much about what’s going on around me; i.e. the trash on the road that drives me to distraction. Sometimes there’s a price for being distracted.

An overarching lesson I’ve learned is to tuck in the elbows from these T-Rex arms and coast downhill as fast as possible to gain momentum on the next one. I think of that every time I’m trying to surmount an incline and hope to ride out most of it. 

Monday gave me the simple epiphany of, “Don’t look up that hill.” I approached from a slight incline, grasping to gain that extra tiny burst of energy it’d provide, perked my ear up for any oncoming traffic, then braved a corner to slowly creep up to the top of that next mountain (actually, a hill). And I conquered that damn hill for the first time. That’s when I accepted the metaphor for the whole marathon. Just. Quit. Looking. Up. The. Hill. You’ll get there somehow.

Just like Sunday will get here somehow.

I’ve been having fun as well, even if I didn’t think I might at first. My friend and I have learned we can at least laugh at ourselves. Those hills look so much easier from behind the wheel of a car.

The marathon going to happen whether I dread it or not. But I can do it. There’s no use in being afraid of what’s to come. Much like eating an elephant, you take it one bite (hill) at a time. I’ve often used that analogy on my students and now have to own it.  

My favorite part so far has been when I’ve listened for approaching traffic, thinking I’ve heard approaching tires, and then realizing it’s the sound of my own. My own tires and my own power propelling me forward. It’s happened twice, much to my delight. 

While this hasn’t been easy, there’s no EASY button from Staples like I’d wish, it’s gotten easier. Not much in life is easy, but seemingly requires less stress-filled effort with time.

My muscles being stronger, the slow emergence of quads and calf muscles, has made those hills do-able. Monday’s ride through the park was my cool-down instead of the first leg of each short journey like it was back in May.

So in hopes I’m not full of shit, just metaphors, I stare at this weekend full of hope and a little less fear, dare I say maybe even excitement. 

Jimmy Dugan

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Too Close For Comfort & “Dos and Don’ts”

sign picThis big ol’ bike ride looms ahead at September’s start. Even though I’m still obviously a bit freaked out, a sense of either denial or calm is inching its way into my brain. I try not to think about it for the most part but still take a few so-called “training” rides throughout the week weather allowing. Staying out of my own head too much is the seemingly insurmountable challenge. 

My muscles feel a little stronger, which I notice during yoga. Poses are more comfortable to do, and I’m not as sore as usual. Still winded more than than I’d like but not aching.  

Some days feel like, while I’m not back at square one, I’m faltering at maybe square two from just taking a few days off from so-called training rides. Then another day brings what other more athletic people might call being in “the zone,” something I’ve never previously experienced in my lifetime. It’s those last minutes when I’m nearing the turn into our cul-de-sac and a burst of energy hits me that I can retake the two hills I’d first sucked wind on that morning. A Jonny Cash tune kicks my butt into gear and pushes me maybe just a quarter-mile further but onward nonetheless. 

Those are the same hills that first kicked my ass a few months ago. Now they’re not as difficult to traverse. Maybe I’ve even conquered a few of them. Others still definitely suck. I just don’t want to go on an uphill crying jag in the middle of the MS150. 

bike pic

inertia/picture break

I’ve learned several things through this process. Kezia and I started a list of things to remember beyond the one I began when first blogging about these lessons along the way.

What TO DO and what NOT TO DO:

DO:

Carb load the night before for immediately usable energy

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

DO NOT:

Drink more than one serving of alcohol the night before

Eat spicy or fried foods either (or pay the price)

Eat or drink too much at any of the sporadic breaks

These are all good things to remember! I must also remind myself of the strong women in my corner:

The aforementioned Kezia says she’ll stay with me throughout the 150 miles, but I don’t want to keep her at my eight-mph pace instead of our earlier-attained 14-mph rate. She’s a big moral support regardless of what happens. 

My sister Jeanna sent me a letter reinforcing I can do this since in light of the fact that so far I’ve overcome some snot-rocket-filled training rides and one pretty long stretch with less-than favorable bowel circumstances. 

I also think of my sister Christy and her strength in all she’s done. I’ve never told her how very, very strong I find her to be with all she’s triumphed in doing. Her energy is with me when the familiar scent of Monterey/Carmel washes over me as I pass a neighboring stretch of pines. 

And Mom always stays close to me and my blue heart when thoughts of her fill my head. Her “holy pahzing” came to me UB40 came on my playlist. That feeling reminds me how she was, much like the song says, there right from the start and always will be. A cardinal flying across my path gives me a needed blessing from above (and no copyright issues, LOL).   

 

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Practicing Gratitude

biking roll

“gone biking” note – upcycling style

Music can help keep me going on sucky work days, prevent road rage and potential throat punches, and with this so-called training I’m attempting. I’ve tried not to count the miles so much but congratulate myself for getting back out there each time regardless of how scared I am of the thought of what is soon to come with the MS150 looming now five weeks on the horizon.

My many cheerleaders through songs that pour from my playlist. One of my sisters comes through in the voice of David Bowie’s Modern Love, and I laugh to myself when I remember us mimicking a quick little “bye bye” wave to the lyrics. A friend of mine, Alexis, checks on my progress, and I appreciate her paying attention to this effort.

The focus isn’t me, though, and I try to concentrate on that fact each time I set out in the bike saddle. Joedie is the person for whom I ride, and I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to freely mobilize and build my muscles to reach this goal. It is through sheer luck and grace I can attempt such a challenge when my mind and body may not feel like it. I can, however, physically do it and am should be supremely grateful.

After repeating to my son how sometimes you win, sometimes you loss, I have to tell myself, “Practice what you preach!” Little of each trek is easy, although “easy” is generally what I’d prefer. Pedaling against the wind gives me appreciation for that Irish poem about the wind being at your back. The proverbial sprint down a flat straightaway is nothing compared to the upcoming September marathon

The ride is a lesson in multi-tasking. Staying aware of surroundings to be safe while watching what I’m actually doing, thinking about gear shifts for hills, and considering road surfaces is a tough laundry list. Any pavement flaws, cracks, rocks, debris, and animal remnants/road pizza are all potential hazards.

biking barn

Small triumphs sometimes motivate me. Pedaling all the way up a big damn incline. Not getting stuck in my clips and falling over when I stop. Hearing Bowie’s Heroes makes me think maybe, just maybe, I can do this … even if it’s just for one day and not both. My body works, although it often hurts, and I’m seeming to get stronger. Like my other sister says, it’s more mental than anything, and managing that madness is my biggest stress.

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Flat Straightaways = Easy

Last weekend’s 26-mile ride taught me something that should already be innate knowledge. It’s easier to breathe in through one’s nose when it’s not full of mucus. Blowing snot rockets the week prior became less humorous when done out of necessity. I keep learning on this journey, albeit at a fear of not being able to make it 150 miles in September. The breaks every 10 mile lead me on a hopeful path, but the hills scare me to distraction.

I keep telling myself each small trip will keep building my strength and not to get overwhelmed with thoughts of, “Well, I might be tough but …” I’ll keep going until I can’t, bottom line.

One of the great pleasures of my life has been in meeting some wonderful friends. Just like the Beatles said, we get by with a little help from our friends. These are some brave, resilient, bad-ass women.

Joedie, for whose honor I chose to attempt the MS150 in the first place. She was forced into early retirement way too young because of the disease. Years ago she laughingly warned me how she’d wake up slowly in difficulty while moving first thing in the morning. She’s the same person who, regardless of any physical challenge, helped clean my house before my baby was born. She advised me to take it easy after a surgery, with her first-hand knowledge coming from cleaning her OUTSIDE house windows after having the same procedure done years prior. Family is everything to her, and I hope she has many years left to enjoy them. She is one of the toughest women I know.

My friend, Kezia, mom of a blended family, proves a woman CAN have it all. She juggles her family life with professional responsibilities while honing a balance of the two and grieving the lost her best friend/sister just over a year ago.

Not everyone has the good fortune to have sisters and a niece like mine, three super strong women. Jeanna, Christy and Audra inspire me on a daily basis in everything they’ve endured and overcome. Christy amazed me with her strength in triumphing over health problems the last several years. Days when I’ve felt like a physical wreck reminded me how much of a wuss I was for thinking anything was tough in comparison to Christy teaching exercise classes while going through chemo treatment. Jeanna’s a runner who sticks with her passion regardless of aging’s indiscriminate attempt to slow her down. Audra seeks her adventurous la vida loca with courage I wish I still possessed.

My tribe extends to a family I’ve developed along the way. Alexis and Amy helped care for their ailing parents, served as their caregivers, but have still shouldered the societal judgement of choosing a childless life, which is their right as human beings. These amazing women rise above that nosiness with a class I could never muster.

My oldest and dearest yayas include Dena, Karen and Lisa. The other Karen, left this earth in 2011. We miss her like crazy but carry on our antics as often as possible. These girls, and I can say “girls” because I’ve known these women since we were girls, are part of my foundation and especially important in that regard.

Rhonda and Shelli support their friends even when their own self-care may wane. They’ve nurtured both the physical and emotional wellbeing of many a friend and family member.

My friend, Kay, recently introduced me to her delightful daughter, Jess. This plucky pair has endured a bout Jess had with breast cancer after losing their beloved husband and father. They did so with a style and grace I can’t imagine ever being able to encompass, and I admire them both greatly.

Marci, Shannon, Tina, Amanda, Robin, Amy & Dianne all manage households with smiles on their faces, many of whom lost their parents entirely too young. And, as everyone surely knows, Boy Moms can totally take anything thrown at them.

Another Amy friend searches for a treatment to works for her congenital heart condition while an unsuspecting person would never know there’s anything the matter with her. She’s also a Boy Mom who takes on the mental health care and sustenance of hundreds of high school students in her job and claims to love every minute of it. Who can love their job that much? I’m so jealous of her satisfaction there and the grace and hope with which she accepts the health hand life has dealt her. 

Last but, much like Baby, never ever put in the corner or last in line, is Sandy who motivates me and cheers me on, regardless of my latest hair-brained scheme. She packed her car full of sound equipment and TDed my “Brace Up, Girl” spoken-word showcase in May. Even on her own birthday, she spent the day “working” and called it fun. Not many will do that shit for somebody else AND drive them to the airport at the drop of a hat! Y’all should be jealous of me if she’s not your friend.

These women help enrich my life on the daily. They keep me grounded and grateful with where I’m at in this world. Yet I must also acknowledge those who got me here in the first place.

My mom labored harder than any woman in my life. She literally worked herself to the bone. I heard evidence of it through that grinding in her back with each agonizing step she took in the last months of her life as she struggled to maintain even an inkling of mobility and independence.

sorghum

accidental sorghum patch

The toughest person I will probably ever know was my dad. Beyond working a full-time manual labor job, he broke horses to ride, plowed gardens for people, grew row crops, and raised some livestock from time to time. He took care of that livestock until his cancer-ridden body would no longer allow him his labor of love and wracked his slight frame and he died at the “ripe old age” of only 55 years. I often sense his presence, even if it’s simply seeing a cattle salt lick in a field I pass or an empty cigarette pack that just happened to be his brand, and the love he instilled in me of the outdoors through which I pedal my bike.

Completing a 150-mile ride over two days this autumn is a lofty goal, but I’ll keep going until I just can’t any longer. That’s all I can try to do. The words in my head, “I might be tough, but …” need to stop. I can only try to keep getting tougher, similar to the people I admire.

I just look forward to the point when I can find some riding Zen and enjoy the process. In the meantime, my path makes me smile in rare fleeting moments.

Chicory growing along the shoulder of the road reminds me of my mentor, Bill, who served as a surrogate father for me at a time in life when I needed one. I spy other glimpses in the woods that make me think of my parents and them reassuring me how I can do this.

chicory

Those fleeting times may get me through when the other times suck and I can’t get out of my head. Much like life, this “bike-athon” (what we’d call it back in grade school) will be full of ass-kicking hills instead of the flat straightaways I enjoy so much. Kathy tells me each person’s ride is her own. Coach Cass says she turns on her favorite song and enjoys the day. Maybe one day I can, too.

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