Cleo

Cleo, Christmas 2007

My cat Cleo was diagnosed with diabetes.

The vet called Monday to let me know the results of some tests I had run on her last Saturday. I’d noticed a sudden increase in urine in the litter box (fortunately, it was all in the litter box) and I immediately became suspicious. I had a hunch right off the bat that it was Cleo–being severely overweight, she was the most likely candidate. And people had been warning me for years that I had to find some way to keep her weight down because she could get diabetes. I listened, but didn’t alter my cat parenting. It was a lot easier for me to free feed the cats because when I go on my little weekend trips, I don’t need to worry about having anyone come in to watch them. I didn’t have to worry about rushing home to feed them regularly. I could have my pets and my lifestyle too.

Making a cat lose weight is hard. The best bet I had was perhaps not letting them free feed, taking the food away as soon as they were done nibbling, and bringing it back later in the day. But, again, that required me to actually think about something other than myself. So. I view it as a fault of my parenting that Cleo got diabetes. Yes, she has the propensity to be overweight; she’s been overweight since the moment I selected her at the Humane Society of Akron. Her little tubby body with too-short legs are what endeared her to me, in fact. That and her general sassy personality.

At the Humane Society, Cleo was housed in the room where cats who got along with other cats were kept. Cats in this area are kept in open cages where, if they are not “roomed” with another cat, they could see other cats in other cages. There’s a separate room in the Humane Society for cats who don’t generally get along with other cats and those cages fill a wall and each cage can only fit one cat. They can’t see each other within their cages.

When my husband and I went looking for our new cat–we called her the child we would have together, as opposed to my “step-children” Nicki and Tanya who Mike had since before he met me–we purposely sought cats who were easy-going and could get along with other cats since we would be bringing a new cat into a two-cat home. So we were in the room where the social cats were housed and we were looking at all the friendly little kitties who were rolling about and mewing in their cages. And Cleo was sitting alone in a cage, looking up at me with her wise old eyes. I put my hand to the cage and she nudged it with her head and began to purr loudly. I thought she was adorable; with her white whiskers and the white spot on her chin, she looked like she had a fu manchu.

I turned from her cage to look at some other cats–I was browsing, I’d just got there–and I heard this bold, flippant, “Ew!” from Cleo’s cage. It was as if she said, “Fine! I don’t need your attention, you stupid human!” I turned around and she had tossed herself, somehow, into the makeshift hammock that was strewn across her cage. She was laying like a person would–on her back, paws in the air. I fell in love with her at that moment. She was taking no shit from anyone. If I wasn’t adopting her, she was showing me that she was just fine without me.

We didn’t get her right away. We were trying to look around at all the shelters to make sure we found the perfect new daughter to adopt. But when I left the Humane Society that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about Cleo’s cute little face, her sassy demeanor, and her tubby, stout little body. Plus, she was black and white; she fit into the color scheme of my currently existing cats (Tanya being fully black, sleek like a panther; Nicki, a black and white “tux” cat.)

Tubby and stout,  Cleo is a solid mass. Mike and I liked to call her “big-boned.” I often thought that if Cleo were human, she’d look like Miss Cleo, the so-called psychic who used to advertise on television late at night. Right down to the Jamaican accent. But I think my Cleo is a lot wiser. Like a Buddha.

A pissed off Cleo, post-bath

Mike and I used to jokingly refer to her as a “gaseous anomaly” (borrowed from some episode of Star Trek) because she used to lay down some nasty gas. Okay, she still does that sometimes. I guess we had all sorts of funny inside jokes about Cleo. She was always a constant source of entertainment for us. When Nicki and Tanya would hiss and try to fight with her, Cleo would fight back with the calm persistence of someone who was above it all. She did what she had to do to get respect.

I named her Cleo (though Mike wanted me to name her “Aurora” because I always wanted to name a real kid that and he hated the name). But we called her “Boogie.” I don’t know why, but it’s permanently her second name. She will respond to either Cleo or Boogie. Some of my friends have little nicknames for her, too, such as “Pillow Kitty” (Gwenn) and “Rolly-Poley Kitty” (my cousin’s husband Peter).

Since I first noticed she might be having health issues, I’ve paid closer attention to her and I realize that she’s not 100% herself. A cat is lazy, but her level of activity has dropped considerably. She spends a lot of time laying in front of the water dish, perhaps for easier access to quench her frequent thirst. She hasn’t been managing care of her fur–there’s more mats than usual in her hair. She’s lying around in general a lot more. And I notice every time she starts down the steps to the litter boxes.

I take her in to the vet again on Saturday to learn how to give her insulin shots. She’s going to get all new food and I’m panicking about how I’m going to keep Nicki from getting it at it. The last time I tried to feed Cleo a special prescribed diet food, I ended up having to give it to Nicki too because Nicki would only want the food that wasn’t in her own dish if she figured out it was different. That’s why I stopped feeding Cleo the vet-prescribed diet food that could have, perhaps, prevented her diabetes. It was too expensive to feed both cats on it. I’m sure the special food for diabetes cats is the same sort of expense. And I’m sure that Nicki is going to want to eat it because it’s different.

How'd she fit in there?!

My lifestyle is altered. I’m trying to think of it as the same thing as having a dog except that I still don’t have to run home to let the cats out before they use the floor as a bathroom (as is the case with most dogs). So now I’ve got to find a “baby-sitter” who has no problem coming to my house twice a day to feed the cats and administer shots to Cleo. I’ve already got dates coming up: TOSRV, the MS 150, the mid-week trip to Michigan for the U2 concert, and my trip to Seattle for a week and a half in July. I’ve been fretting for the last couple days about what I’m going to do about all these events. And I’m bumming because I wanted to sign up for Roscoe Ramble in August. Because I hate to impose on my friends, I imagine I’ll be paying a lot of pet-sitting fees. Which might ultimately cause me to cut back on the number of weekend trips I go on.

I guess I’ll work it out. I see no other choice right now because I can’t let my cat suffer. I don’t want to give her away to someone else because she’s become inconvenient to my single life. That’s so shallow and mean. The vet says that after some treatment, cats occasionally will clear themselves of the diabetes symptoms and go back to normal. But she warned me not to expect that. The symptoms came on so suddenly–within the last couple of weeks–so I’m hoping her case of diabetes really isn’t that serious. I’m praying for some recompense for my bad parenting. Maybe I still have time to undo the damage I’ve done.

Admittedly, a part of me would not forgive myself if I bailed on Mike and my “love child.” The only conversations Mike and I ever had about death was about who would take custody of our cats if we both tragically died. That’s how much we were attached to our pets. In fact, I’ve told myself many-a-night that it’s a good thing I came into Mike’s life because I dread to think what would have happened to Nicki and Tanya had Mike left them orphaned. And who knows what would have happened to Cleo if we had never rescued her from the Humane Society. It is a no-kill facility. Cleo had already been there 9 months; maybe she would have been there for life. That’s no life for a cat.

Everyone in my family is a sucker for animals. My parents have kept their dogs well beyond senility. My brother and his wife have two cats. It seems none of us can be without a pet. As much as I begrudge my situation now, and as many times I swear that I will not have any more cats after these ones, I know that it’s not true. I would feel incredibly lonely without the company of a pet. At times when I was going through the worse moments of grief, my cats were always there, demanding attention, purring on my lap, and letting me know that I wasn’t alone. Their simple love cheered me on lonely nights. Petting them soothed me when I cried. Pets are often used to help sick people in hospitals and I understand why. They coax the nurturing nature out of us, even when we think we are totally devoid of a nurturing nature.

A relationship with a pet is give and take. I suppose now it’s my turn to give.

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Origins

People ask me all the time how I got into cycling. My initial response is to explain that I started cycling in Colorado. Which is true to some extent. I was living in Colorado when I went from the casual 5-10 mile rider to a less casual 15-20 mile rider. I bought a road hybrid bike and began to commute to work–20 miles each way–a few days a week. It was in Colorado where I found my masochistic love of climbing. The frequency of my cycling increased. I became a bit more obsessed. It’s true Colorado, with all of its hard-core sport-oriented population, ignited my love of cycling and took it to all new levels. However, I wasn’t cycling then nearly as many miles as I do today. The increase in mileage and frequency of cycling actually happened when I returned to Ohio, after I bought a road bike and started riding with Akron Bicycle Club.

But none of that really adequately explains when it all started. When I really trace back the origins of my cycling, it goes much, much further than that. Growing up in the safety of a residential area, and in a time when parents could leave their kids unattended for hours without a worry, I was never without a bike. The first bike I remember clearly is the pink Schwinn (I don’t remember what model it was) that I got when I was ready to go off training wheels. It was the bike I learned how to ride–really ride–on. I vaguely remember my mom teaching me to ride it (sans training wheels) in the parking lot of Kidder Elementary one summer afternoon sometime after I got the bike. I don’t remember if I was fearful or brave about the experience, only that I was filled with a determination to ride the bike in the same way I remember a fierce determination, years later, to learn to ski. It was a challenge, I knew, that would lead to fun adventures ahead and I wanted to do it.

Once I was an expert cyclist, I’d to ride up and down the street with the boys of my neighborhood, particularly Scott–my best friend in those early years before we both ended up at the same high school and it was no longer “cool” for boys and girls to hang out as friends. We put baseball cards in my spokes so that our bikes would make a noise as we pedaled which we were convinced sounded like a motorcycle. On our imagined motorcycles, the mailboxes were the drive-through windows for McDonald’s and Burger King or the pumps at a gas station. We built ramps in each other’s driveways and I jumped them bravely (something I know I would never do today!). We played Voltron, riding down the street in formation as we screamed, “Form legs and arms.” I was Princess Alura in Blue Lion; Scott was Keith in Black Lion; and sometimes my brother would tag along as Pidge, the Green Lion pilot (I don’t think he liked this role too much–he got it because Pidge was the short kid character on the show and my brother was younger than us).

I can’t separate riding bikes from my childhood memories. I loved riding so much that even when I was at my Grandma and Grandpa E’s house, I would make my Grandpa drag out my dad and my aunts’ old bikes so that I could ride them up and down the sidewalk on their street and, sometimes, around the block. I loved the different feel of these older bikes. I loved the freedom and speed of getting away from the confines of my grandparents’ childless house where there were not a whole lot of toys for me to play with. On a bike, I was able to explore new territory and escape supervision. I loved the freedom bike riding gave me.

One year, I even participated in a ride for multiple sclerosis designed for younger kids. There was a one mile loop around the high school and after completing each mile, a volunteer punched your card to record how many miles you’d done. All my relatives and neighbors had pledge to sponsor me by the number of miles I did, most of which were giving me 1-5 cents per mile. Scott’s dad, however, pledged $1 per mile and had playfully told me that he didn’t think I would do more than 5 miles. It was a challenge to me that I took with the utmost seriousness. I ended up riding a grand total of 20 miles that day, not only surprising the pants off of Scott’s dad, but also impressing the heck out of my entire family. The funny thing is, I don’t remember being tired that day. Because my grandfather had MS, I had a fierce determination, which continues today, to raise money for the cause. And that I did.

When I was older, maybe about 11 or 12, I got my second bike–a twelve-speed “racing bike,” I called it. It was gold and had the now-familiar bent handlebars of a road bicycle. I wanted a bike like this so bad because I dreamed of going easily up the little hill on the street in front of my house with the ease of gears. Even then, I was picturing myself climbing hills. All the older boys in the neighborhood had one of these cooler, sleeker looking bikes and for me the upgrade was a status symbol. I was on a grown-up’s bike now. Of course, I laugh when I remember how heavy that bike was. By today’s standards, it’s hardly a “racing bike.” I’m not even sure it was a racing bike by yesterday’s standards.

I rode that gold bike well into my teens, even after riding a bike was seen as less than cool in my age group. Before I had a license to drive, it was my only means of solo transport to my friends’ houses, babysitting jobs, and sometimes to the bank when I needed to deposit a pay check. I probably stopped riding it shortly after I got my license. Teenage life was about looking good and you’re hair gets all messed up when you transport yourself by bicycle.

Time moved on and soon I was in college. Hiram, being a small campus and very hilly, is not conducive for bike riding. I did bring my bike to college the first year I was there, but I only rode it once. One afternoon, I thought it would be a good idea to use my bike to grab lunch in Garrettsville. The 3 or 4 miles along Route 700 from Hiram to Garrettsville is somewhat rolling with a huge climb at both ends. While I could easily do the route today with my current physical condition, the last hill into Garrettsville really knocked me out. I did “grab lunch” at McD’s, ate it there, and was hungry again by the time I returned to Hiram. I think that was the last time I touched my bike while attending Hiram.

The biggest lapse in my cycling happened between college and meeting Mike. Ever the outdoors man, Mike had a bike and encouraged me to go riding with him. On my birthday in 1998, he bought me a mountain bike (really, a trail bike)–Gary Fisher Gitche Gumee. We began riding the Akron Metro Parks bike path and Stow Bikeway (then unpaved) and the towpath with some regularity. It was just another one of the things we did, though, between hiking, backpacking, and jumping out of airplanes. I rediscovered that youthful feeling of freedom cycling provides.

I signed up for my first MS 150 in 2000. Though I’d never ridden more than 20 miles at that point, I completed the whole first day’s 75 miles. I did not come back to ride the second day, however. Mike didn’t join me in the ride, but after watching my brother and I do it, he wanted to ride it the next year. He even had signed up for it, but, of course, he died before that could happen. The day he died, in fact, we were supposed to meet up with a friend to do a training ride on the towpath. I’m still rendered breathless when I think of signing in at the registration table for the 2001 MS 150 and the lady handing me my packet asked, “There’s one here for Michael F—. Is he riding?” I guess she assumed, correctly, since we had the same funky long last name that we were of the same family.

“Um,” I gulped. In the newness of my widow status, I didn’t have any prepared answers for situations such as these (which I would later). In those seconds, I wanted to spill it all. I wanted to give a reasonable explanation for his absence, as if simply being absent would besmirch his dedication as a cyclist. But in the end, all I said was, feeling very small, “No.” And I walked away, stricken. (I’d also spent a good portion of the night before crying on the telephone while talking to my father-in-law).

Anyway, I guess that first MS 150–the one in the happy days of 2000 before I was widowed–kindled my interest in distance riding. Though I didn’t return to do another MS 150 after the 2001 one until 2004 in Colorado, it was always on the back of my mind to actually complete a long ride. Unfortunately, I didn’t complete both days  of the MS 150 in Colorado, but I did complete the entire first day–long climbs and all–and forty miles of the second day (which also included a lot of hard climbing). I didn’t complete a MS 150 until 2006 in Ohio.

I guess though I’ve always been a cyclist at heart, and I’ve had a lot of cycling influences throughout my life, the truest origin of my cycling craziness began in the years following my husband’s death. I needed something that could momentarily relieve the aching of my grieving heart and give me additional, healthy, jolts of energy. A lot of the coping mechanisms I employed in the beginning were unhealthy, such as smoking and a bit of heavy drinking. For the longest period in my grief, I approached life with a sort of reckless abandon. I felt like the floor could disappear beneath my feet at any moment. Because of this, I didn’t care about polluting my lungs with smoke or drinking myself to sleep at night. Every time I got into a car, I wondered if I would get into a car accident and die. Sometimes I feared (and almost welcomed) that I wouldn’t wake in the morning. I needed to do something healthy–something physical that I could control–to break this depression I found myself in. I found that when I was cycling, I needed only to focus on the task at hand, that I could lose track of my darker internal thoughts. Additionally, the endorphins from the workout made me feel whenever I was feeling numb. Cycling made me feel alive again. I felt like a kid, riding on a single gear bike up and down the street with Scott and the other boys of my neighborhood, free and full of the world.

In a lot of ways, I think cycling saved me. It was an activity that didn’t belong to the part of me that was Mike and Mars Girl. It was something he and I had done together some, but when cycling alone started to dominate my passions, I made it my own. And it’s still my own. Even though I know that had Mike lived, and had I become obsessed with cycling, he would certainly have matched me in the ferocity of passion for cycling. He also liked to challenge himself and I’m sure he would have loved to do all the rides I’ve done. It’s useless to think about him doing things I’ve done since he can’t. And I’ll never know what it would have been like to cycle with him. Still, sometimes when I’m out with my bike club, or I’m in the middle of a ride by myself, I imagine what it would have been like to have Mike pedaling beside me. I wonder if he would have loved to climb hills like I do, if his natural ability for sports would make him faster than me or if a bicycle would equalize us. I think about how he would have loved to get to know some of the people I’ve met in the club (in fact, whenever I’m with a new group of people I’ve just met, I am always able to pick out the people I know Mike would have liked and gotten a long with). I guess thinking about how our spouses would respond to the worlds we’ve built for ourselves post-marriage is just something we widows do.

Whatever I might ponder about the “what-ifs” and “would-have-beens,” cycling is the first activity I found for myself in my new life after Mike. It allowed me to experience the world in new ways with bike trips to Italy and Germany, throughout and across Ohio, through the mountains of Colorado, and–this summer–the Pacific Northwest. Cycling has given me a great way to expand my social network and meet new people, which makes me feel a little less alone. I’m thankful for the continual exposure to cycling that I’ve had throughout my life that allowed me to find the activity again at a time when I most needed the distraction. Little did I know when I was putzing around on my little pink Schwinn that I was starting on life long journey that would continue well into my 30s… and end up in the land of complete fanaticism… where I’d find myself accomplishing amazing feats of distance and endurance that I could only imagine in my wildest childhood dreams….

The Bikes I’ve Owned:

– Pink Schwinn (model unknown), ages 5 to 11?
– Gold “racing bike” (model unknown), ages 11-17?
– Gary Fisher Gitche Gumee, 1998-2005 (traded it to an ex-bf for his older telescope)
– Trek 7500Fx, 2003-2009 (sold it to another ex-bf)
– Giant OCR 1, 2006-present (my road bike)
– Surly Cross-Check, 2009-present (my touring bike, on and off road)
– Specialized Rock Hopper (1996), 2001, 2009-present (Was my husband’s bike, then I gave it to Diane in 2001; Diane, upon getting a new bike, returned it to me. I am going to do something with it, but I haven’t decided what.)

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Curried Lamb with White Beans

I know I promised way back in November that I was going to make a recipe each month of winter out of  The Best Slower Cooker Cookbook Ever, but, um, my lack of domestic skill or interest kind of derailed me. Even though my usually uncreative and bland cooking leaves me wanting more and slow cookers are the easiest things to use because it generally has that “set it and forget it” sort of concept working to its advantage. Plus, I generally can make enough food for a night’s dinner with enough left over to freeze and eat once a week for a couple of months!

Anyway, I tried the curried lamb with white beans recipe I’ve been wanting to make. Now I know some people have their qualms with eating lamb; I love lamb, it’s one f my favorite meats. I know it’s gamey, but I think the gamey flavor is the best part. Plus, lamb tends to break down into softer meat when slow cooked and then it flavors the rest of the stew. It seems to be a great slow cooker meat!

The result was generally pretty good, but I think it’s missing something in flavor. I think it needs more heat or more curry or spices or something. I have to figure out what it is I need to put more of to make a tastier result next time. Any ideas from the experienced cooks out there?

Ingredients (Makes 6 to 8 Servings):

1 (16-ounce) package dried small white beans, rinsed and picked over (I didn’t rinse them or pick them over — they came in a package after all! Why would I need to do this?)
2 cups very hot water
1 cup dry wine (I used that Oak Creek Pinot Gris from Giant Eagle because it’s only $2. It’s a good cooking wine because it’s totally tasteless for drinking! Which probably makes it a bad cooking wine, but I wasn’t about to waste one of my good more expensive whites for cooking!)
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (Hmmm… maybe it needed more garlic…)
1 large Granny Smith apple, chopped (I forgot that was in there!)
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped (I put the whole thing in of both.)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Beau Monde seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 pounds lean boneless lamb stew meat, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes

Instructions:

1. In a 4-quart electric slow cooker, combine the beans, hot water, wine, red onion, garlic, apple, green and red bell peppers, 2 tablespoons of the curry powder, the cumin, Beau Monde seasoning, and turmeric. Add the lamb and mix well.

2. Cover and cook on the high heat setting for 1 hour. Reduce the heat setting to low. Cook, covered, on low for 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 hours longer, or until the beans are tender but not mushy. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon curry powder.

Does anyone know of a hot Indian pepper I might add to the recipe? I think I’d like my nose to water or something! Or a least for my tongue to tingle a little… I have to admit, though, that despite my slight disappointment with the taste of the outcome, I was inspired to perhaps attempt some Indian recipes.  I love Indian food! (And Thai, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, German…)

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35

I’m now in my mid-30s.

I’m now three years older than Mike ever was.

The passage of time always bothers me when I think of things in the context of my life with Mike. When I was 26, his 32 years seemed so much older and more mature, even though he was as silly as me most of time, and we understood each other. Now I’m 35 and it really feels no different to me than 25.

Most of my older friends still call me a baby. Which annoys me. I wish they’d stop doing that. I know it’s meant as a compliment because they wistfully remember being in their 30s and some of them–especially the single ones–seem to think dating should come easier for me, that men are just lining up at my door for dates because I’m so young. But that’s so not so. It’s just as hard to find someone as it ever has been. I can’t say I’ve ever had a time in my life when finding someone to date–even casually–was particularly easy.

Besides the dating thing, some of my older friends try to tell me that the world is more open to me at my age. That I can do anything because I’m “so young.” I think the world and opportunities are open to you at any age; you just need the bravery and inspiration to go attack them. People publish their first novels at 45, 55, 85. It doesn’t matter. There are men in my bike club who are twice my age who can kick my ass up any hill and pass me within seconds on a flat. I’ve seen others who ski quite well at 75. Never underestimate someone’s ability to succeed at anything. The only thing really holding you back in life is your inner critic who gives you arbitrary reasons for why you can’t do something you want to do. If you want to bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it.

I wonder what age I have to become before people stop remarking how young I am. It kind of bothers me because it seems to invalidate me as possibly having any of the wisdom and experience that age brings. I feel with having lost my husband at the age of 26, I’ve got far more life experience than many of my same-aged peers. The experience of widowhood alone should give me ten more years of emotional experience; mentally, I’m 45, having gone through something of which most people my age can’t even conceive and are made uncomfortable when it comes up in conversation.

Besides widowhood, though, I’ve been out of college for over 10 years and I’ve been working just as long. I’ve held a lot of different jobs. I’ve owned three different houses in my life. I left Northeast Ohio where I was raised and lived, for a very short time, in Colorado. I have bought my own car without anyone’s help, dealing with the schmuck salesmen completely on my own and never letting them take total advantage of me. I’ve lived on my own, supported myself, and have never gone into credit card debt or needed to file bankruptcy. I do my own taxes (though, with the help of TurboTax). I’m not green to life.

I usually don’t tell people my age unless asked to avoid the “you’re so young” comments. It grates on my nerves like nails on chalkboard. Likewise, when someone younger than me reveals their age, I never repeat the same ritual words. I don’t want to make anyone feel as if their experiences don’t count for anything. I don’t know what they’ve been through in life, the battles and inner demons they have had to fight.

In the end, we’re all the same. We’re all moving along our own paths, headed to a place we want to go or trying to deal with the path on which we’ve been helplessly propelled. Age doesn’t matter. We may say a person is too young to die, but it’s just something we say to ourselves because obviously Death doesn’t card you before fulfilling his task. Age is just an arbitrary number assigned to keep track of how long we’ve been treading on our individual paths. I don’t put much stock in a number.

I don’t get particularly sad about my own advancing age and I never really have. I like celebrating my birthday and I like claiming a new number for a year. To me, it’s a source of pride to have managed to navigate another year of life and claim this new number. I intend to be thankful for each advancing year, no matter how high the number climbs, because I know all too well that some people–like my husband–never get to have that number for themselves.

They say you’re only as old as you feel. Most days, I still feel like that teenager wistfully planning what I’m going to do when I grow up. Isn’t it funny how we never feel as wise and knowledgeable as we always imagined, at much younger ages, we would be when we reached that age? 35 could be 16 to me except that I’ve got the freedom and means now to do those things I’ve always wanted to do. And I’ve got more friends.

It’s a lot scarier being an adult. You have to rely on yourself. You don’t get to live under the happy, carefree protection of your family. Freedom gives you many things but it also leaves you vulnerable and alone. The 16 year old in me sometimes comes out in the form of my fear. How did I get here? I wonder.  I look at my face and I clearly see a 30-something. My brain is both 16 and 45–part of me naive and dreams, the other hardened by the experience of loss and the realities of life. Do we ever really grow up? Or are we forever just winging our way through all of this, hoping we know exactly what we’re doing?

Galloping

Who would have thought a gallop
Was as smooth as two wheels on pavement
Legs pumping vigorously to bring motion
Lungs drained breathless with work
Between ecstasy and pain
Gloriously alive in that long, laborious moment
All thoughts focused on the simple, single task:
Motion, moving, momentum.

(Inspired while riding yesterday… Though, admittedly, I think this actually just the start of a poem…)

Happy St. Patty’s Day

Some lush-ku for you in the spirit of the “holiday.”

Light-weights drink green beer
And speak with emerald tongues;
Hop-heads drink Guinness.

(If I had more syllables, I could have added “and grow hair on their chests.” Which is what my dad claims happens when you drink a stout.)

I’m neither Irish
Nor Catholic. But I love beer!
Happy St. Patty’s!

Smithwick’s, Harp’s, Guinness
Great Lakes’ Conway’s, Killian’s:
Irish brew’s true hues.

…So how long until Cinco de Mayo…? (Though I am not as versed on Latino beer.)

Exhausting

Whenever I find myself exhausted from a week of socializing, I’m reminded of my life in Colorado and how it was completely opposite to the one I live here in all aspects, especially social. Maybe I didn’t know how to do it right–talk to people and throw myself into every common interest circle I could find. I thought I was doing it right back then by joining the Colorado Mountain Club and taking some outdoor adventure classes with them. I had some friends from the Highpointers Club that I immediately hooked myself up with, but they were a good ten years older than me, more established–they couldn’t hold my hand as I tried to make friends. I couldn’t expect anyone to hold my hand. I guess I had just figured I’d make friends as easy as I had in college, forgetting, of course, that in college we were all in the same boat of not knowing anyone and having to establish ourselves. In the adult world, it takes a lot of work to cultivate relationships. And I just didn’t try enough, which eventually led to me moving back to Ohio.

Maybe, too, I just wasn’t quite far enough in my grief journey to really let new people in. I saw Colorado as the fulfillment of a dream that Mike and I had for our lives. I viewed my move there as a way of continuing on the path on which I was originally headed. I didn’t yet realize that the path no longer led to where I wanted it to go, that a gate shut to close it off the moment the doctor in the emergency room told me that my husband was dead. I hadn’t yet realized that I sought spiritual comfort. I hadn’t yet realized how much I needed my friends and family in Ohio and instead I’d pushed them away in attempt to spare them the depths of my pain. I didn’t trust anyone enough with my heart. The only one I trusted in that way was gone forever.

When I think back to how spiritually and emotionally bereft I was back then, I feel especially blessed for the people I’ve met and associations I’ve affiliated myself with since my return. Somehow I managed to do it right, finally. I’ve figured out how to build a life of my own that can be as full and busy as I want it. Unfortunately, I don’t always know when to quit or say no. Which leads to the kind of week I had last week when I wore myself out with social activities. I had a lot of fun, but I must admit that I was totally exhausted by Friday which caused me to totally reject an invitation to dinner at Ray’s in Kent with my dad (which is something I usually look forward to). I also spent all day Saturday vegging out to the entire fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well, not the entire season. I was on the second disc (of six) on Saturday morning. I tried to be good and only watch two episodes. But later in the day, when it became abundantly clear that I wasn’t in the mindset to do any writing, I submitted to the utter, gluttonous pleasure of finishing off the entire season. It was raining all day, anyway–weather fit for neither cycling nor skiing. Moving through the episodes of an entire season is like reading the chapters of a really good book; you keep saying that you’re going to stop after the next episode, but when you get to the end of the episode, the suspense is overwhelming and you feel compelled to continue.

I am tempering my guilt for being glued to the “boob tube” by reminding myself and everyone I talk to that this series is not just senseless garbage. It’s legitimately well-written and artistically crafted visual media. The plots and themes and characters are completely worthy of a scholarly dissection, which I find myself doing throughout the day as I ponder Joss Whedon’s view of the world. I like to consider where Joss has taken this fantastical world, especially realizing that he’s a self-proclaimed atheist who frequently writes on religious themes and explores them in his work (often mocking them). I’m thoroughly impressed by the tightness of the writing–Whedon’s characters generally stay within character, the mythos is pretty consistent within itself, and even in the darkest moments of the series, there are bits of sardonic humor that make the fantastic stories so utterly believable because you could see yourself reacting in much the same way as the characters. If Whedon and his team were writing this show without a vision, flying by the seat of their pants, I would never know it because every detail seems to tie back together at some point, even if it’s episodes or seasons later. (I suspect Amy the witch-turned-rat will eventually come back…?). So many television serials lack a strong, cohesive vision these days and it seems often that some writer came up with a great idea but then never thought it past the first story arc (i.e., Heroes). I think Whedon’s vision is always much stronger (with the exception of the disappointing Dollhouse).

Anyway, I didn’t mean to blab on about Buffy. It’s just that when I’m exposed to good writing–especially in a time when I’m feeling particularly uninspired–I’m filled with excitement. I guess that’s why I was an English major–I love a good story. I love to examine every piece and part of a good story. It’s really hard to please me. I’m often very picky and I hate when writers don’t fail to follow through on an originally good idea. I most hate a really bad ending. Battlestar Galactica‘s season finale ruined the whole series for me. Heroes failed to deliver after season 1 and I pretty much became bored with it. I loved Alice Sebold’s book The Lovely Bones until the over-the-top ending. I was completely rapt–late reading on work nights and everything– by Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y, but again, the end was shoddy and didn’t make sense with the rest of the story. I have a five-star rating system for books and movies and while I award a lot of 4’s, I award a 5-star rating to only those works that have kept me going from start to finish and have left me thirsty for more when the words or picture stopped. A good writer doesn’t give away all his/her secrets; he/she should leave his/her readers a little hungry to keep them dreaming up theories and conclusions about the work for the rest of their lives. That’s the kind of writing I love most. That’s the kind of writer I aspire to be.

Needless to say, I’ve pretty much got Buffy on my mind when I’m not running all over Northeast Ohio trying to see and do everything. Despite the onset of mental and physical exhaustion at the end of this past week, I must admit I had fun participating in the following activities.

Monday. After a meeting at work that ran over to 6:30pm, I made it just in time to see Alice in Wonderland, in 3D, with some friends from my church. Thanks to Randy (mentioned later in this post) who waited outside the theater for me to arrive. Monday night at the movies is becoming a habit for me these days. It’s $5 movie night in Kent and it’s nice to finally have a group of people to go see movies with. I think one of the reasons I haven’t seen many movies in the last couple years is because I feel like a reject going by myself… And finding a movie that the group all wants to see is no problem with me as I’ll watch almost anything in my eternal search for a really good (epic) story. I try not to judge movies by their trailers.

Tuesday. I went to Lakewood Library for the Lake Erie Wheelers’ meeting with guest speaker Kevin Madzia from Century Cycles who talked about his trip from Ohio to Guatemala. I may consider doing some self-contained bike touring–though maybe not at quite this length–so I was interested in hearing the gory details of his adventure. The details of his trip–the good and the bad–kind of inspired me to learn more about self-contained trips on which I might take Beau. Maybe some weekend trip or something is in order for the future. Ideally, I’d like to someday ride from my house to… somewhere… in some other state… But I have not yet come up with a goal for this.

Wednesday. Some friends from (again) church invited me to a werewolf movie night. What is a werewolf movie night? It evidently involves homemade reubins, corned beef and cabbage, and various other snacks washed down with homemade beer and (store-bought) wine while we watched American Werewolf in London and the old Lon Chaney Wolfman.  This event was hosted by Randy who, along with his wife Mary, is  the perpetual host of themed-dinner nights. I love going to Randy and Mary’s place because they both enjoy cooking as well as hosting and they are very good at both. They also like good wine and beer. My friend Colleen also deserves mention here for the excellent corn beef and cabbage she cooked up, not to mention the homemade horseradish sauce! I had fun, but I stayed too late even though I told myself I wasn’t going to. *dramatic sigh*

Thursday. I attended a Hiram alumni event called Five-Live which refers to the five cities who were hosting like gatherings. Being the Cleveland contingent, closest to Hiram’s campus, we got to watch live the speech college president Thomas Chema gave about the state of the college while the other sites watched via web cam. My feelings were somewhere between jealousy and envy as I listened to all the changes underway at the college. Why does your school always get better things after you’re gone? The enrollment has increased to 1,100 students–still small, but quite a difference compared to the 800 students who attended while I was there. When asked what we, as alumni, could do to help the college, one of Chema’s answers was help with recruitment. Damn, I keep trying! No one else I know has college-aged kids who are willing to go to a small liberal arts college in the middle of an Ohio cornfield… But believe me, if I could convert a few people to the Light of Hiram (whose emblem proudly bears the words Fiat Lux: Let there be light!), I certainly would. Best years of my life at that school, I’ll tell you. (Next to those years I spent with my husband, that is.)

Of course, I stayed there a bit too long, gabbing with a former student I had as a teaching assistant for First Year Seminar (I think) who is really well on her way to becoming a candidate for Cleveland’s City Counsel soon… If not something higher and mightier.  John, the newly appointed Director of Alumni Relations, a friend, bestowed me and Diane each with an extra drink ticket. (What? Do I have “drunk” written across my head? “Wino” perhaps?). Again, I stayed too late. Got lost on the way home as I missed one of the confusing turn-offs on Canal Road in the valley. I always have the darndest time trying to get back home from Independence–I assure you it had nothing to do with the amount of wine I drank. I always miss the road I’m supposed to take to get back home whenever I go down there and then I end up in Oakwood or Northfield. (I once was senselessly lost for two hours with my best friend when trying to take the “back way” from her house in Cleveland to mine in Stow.) I have horrible directional sense unless I drive the same route every day for at least a year. I think I’m totally a candidate for a GPS in my car…

So that was my week. Surely you can see why I became anti-social for a day and a half. This coming week should be much calmer. I’ll try not to let it get too out of control. Next weekend, however, is my birthday weekend. I took my actual birthday (the 22nd) off from work and I’ll either, depending on the weather, do a day trip to Peek N Peak or ride my bike somewhere. I have plans for my birthday all weekend, but they’re much more subdued than they’ve been in the past. I didn’t want to put everyone out with my big birthday dinner. It will be nice to be a little more relaxed, anyway.

It’s good to have friends. It’s good to have places to go where I’m not so lonely. And I know that I’ve really found my place at home here in Ohio. Despite its disagreeable winters and the mass exodus of people my age, I think I’ll probably stay here until I die. I’m really a Clevelander at heart and it’s the only place where I feel comfortable. I’m still holding out hope that I will someday be able to afford a second home in Colorado to which I can escape for a month or so in the winter… But until then, all my dream’s are just a plane’s ride away. My friends are here, my family is here; this is where I belong.

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Letting go

A couple of weeks ago while I was unloading my dishwasher, I dropped a plate and it shattered to the floor in a hundred or so pieces. A hand squeezed my lungs and I couldn’t breathe. It was one of the plates from the set my husband and I selected on our wedding registry and received from one of our guests (though I don’t remember who). All of the utensils and kitchenware that my husband and I shared in our house together–including the remains of a plate set he had in his home before he even met me–have survived five moves since my husband died, two of which involved a trek across five states, and in one clumsy move while transferring a plate from the dishwasher to the cupboard, I managed to break the first one. I felt inexplicably sad about the loss.

I know it seems overly dramatic to get upset over one broken plate. I suppose over time, this original plate set would have been broken or aged throughout the normal course of its life with us. We would have thought nothing of it other than the nostalgic remembrance of the plate as part of our original dining set–a gift given to us when we got married and began to start our new life together. But with my husband gone, even the loss of one piece of a dining set feels so much more abrupt. It’s like losing a part of that dream life all over again, a painful reminder that my life took an abrupt turn from what I thought it was going to be when I said “I do” on my wedding day. It reminds me that my best friend–my lover, my confident, the only person on the planet who really knew me–is dead.

There seems to be a pattern throughout the (almost) nine years since Mike died in which I want to keep everything exactly like it was, freeze my environment and continue in old habits, as if to hang desperately onto every last thread of that life I shared with him. Even though I’ve moved on, slowly, and have accepted that he’s never coming back and he can’t just slide back into this life as if he never left. In fact, it’s probably unlikely that we could share a space together in the life I have built since him. I’ve changed and I’m not the same person I was when we were together. With all the time that has passed, if he were still alive and this were all just some big mistake of understanding, he would be changed too. Could it be that a certain place and time defines love more than the attraction two people share? Is it true what they say sometimes about timing? Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work because it wasn’t the right time for either party even though it very well could have worked in another time (which is how I always feel about my ex-boyfriend Steve). Sometimes a relationship works only because it is the right time and place for both people. And when the right person comes at the right time for both people, it true that only then can they stand a chance of growing together and accepting the growth in each other?

Slowly over the years, I’ve adjusted to my new life and started doing things that made more sense to me. I stopped using the detergent that Mike and I would always buy because it was the only one he wasn’t allergic to. I went back to leaving things around the house instead of always putting them away as Mike preferred me to do. I started getting rid of things we shared in our house together that were more his choice than mine, like this rock water fountain thing we used to keep in our living room to entertain the cats (it doesn’t really match my more modern decor). I stopped pretending I would ever learn to play chess, or that I even wanted to, and I gave away his marble chess set. I bought new sheets and comforter for the bed since I changed the color scheme for my bedroom in my new house. I stopped saying “it’s an issue” or “Issue?” to people when something was happening that needed explaining, which was a phrasing I’d picked up from (and adored in) Mike. I stopped buying the same shampoo he always bought. I stopped locking the cats up in the basement at night and let them–shock of all shocks–sleep in the bed with me. I bought a new computer when the one we had as a married couple broke down. I threw out some of his old t-shirts when they became to ragged for me to wear anymore.

These seem like a lot of little things, I know, but each and every one of the items I listed was a conscious and dramatic choice for me. Each one has been a painful decision in some way to change, adjust, just some small part of the habits of a life I shared with Mike. I had to stop myself and ask, “Does this make sense anymore?” when I found myself clinging to some old tradition as if it were a religious rite. I had to start finding my life as single Mars Girl and defining it as I am sure Mike had to define his own bachelor life at the start. Since I’d had very little of a bachelorette life before I got married, I didn’t really have any household habits of my own; I acquired all of Mike’s. They became a part of me as much as they were a part of us. The process of separating myself from us didn’t just end in that hospital room on April 14, 2001. It still continues these eight, almost nine,  years. And I’m sure a lot of old ways do make some sense to me still and have become a part of my own ways.

From Mike, I learned an inexhaustible love of nature and the outdoors. I may have dropped hiking from my preferred activities–which was what he and I used to do–and acquired cycling instead, but I still see the world through Mike’s eyes. I always had an interest in activities in the outdoors, but Mike taught me how to stop, breathe, and experience the moment. He showed me how exultantly beautiful the world is when you pause to observe every detail like watching the colors in a prism. I still struggle to slow down and experience a moment but whenever I do consciously make the effort, I conjure Mike’s patience to help me see. He is sometimes the strength in my legs as I’m nearing exhaustion on a long bike ride; he is the force that calms my shaking legs when I’m scared in the middle of steep ski slope; he is my breathe when I inhale the chilled mountain air while exploring the vistas of a mountain view somewhere; he is my eyes as I watch people while I sit in a coffee shop trying to write. Mike didn’t give me any extra confidence in myself; he merely showed me the strength and confidence I didn’t know I had within myself. His best lessons are still with me. And sometimes, if I imagine that he can see me, I imagine he’s proud. Even if he is a bit disgruntled about some of the other parts of our life together that I’ve abandoned (especially the “leaving my stuff around the house” part).

So I’ve become my own person. Not that I wasn’t my own person. I just mean, in a good marriage, a person–and all their little daily habits that don’t seem very significant–becomes a part of the couple entity. A shared life means a shared vision. Every decision, right down to what clothes detergent to buy, becomes a committee decision. These little things all add up to make one complete puzzle of a life. When the puzzle is tossed to the ground suddenly one day, there are still some pieces in the aftermath that are stuck together without any connection to the once-perfect whole. The surviving person is left to pick up these pieces and make sense of them again. Which pieces still go together? Which pieces must be traded for new?

I realize that throwing out the disparate pieces is a healthy part of letting go. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when I come to that fork in the road where I have to choose a different path than the one on which I was headed with Mike. The little things–like a plate from our dining set breaking–just serves to remind me that life continues to go on without Mike or our married life. I can’t freeze time, I can’t contain my environment to keep him closer to me. Life can’t be contained, time can’t be stopped. Plates will break, clothes will get worn, a car will be stolen, objects will be lost, hiking equipment will rust. I will change. Life moves relentlessly on. I have to cope with each new change and the loss of breath it invokes.

I know all this. But I have to acknowledge the pain of loss until nothing more of that shared life remains. I wonder how long that takes. And if I truly want it to stop.

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Still out here

I’m still in a bit of a funk… I seriously don’t know what’s going on, but I suspect it’s a little like a friend said on her blog: I’m letting my dark side take over. It kind of sucks.

It’s not like the darkness is keeping me indoors, though. I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy, which is what happens to me when I fall into a funk. I do everything I can to avoid the demon sitting at home in the living room. I keep myself so occupied that I haven’t a moment to spare to think about how I feel. I just keep pushing my body to the point of exhaustion so that all I want to do when I get home is veg and/or sleep. I suppose this is dysfunctional and it will undoubtedly catch up with me later, but maybe in some ways I need this time to come back out into my own, secure my path in the world by making new friends and solidifying relationships with existing friends. I think part of the process of getting through a break up is rediscovering your own interests, talents, and social networks and expanding on all of them. Which is not at all unlike the process of rediscovery that you have to go through when you lose a spouse. In fact, a grief counselor I once spoke to said that we grieve losses of all kinds every day–break-ups, youth, fights with good friends, the death of our four-legged friends, and, believe it or not, even the loss of significant possession. So what I’m going through is normal. I think part of the problem with this last relationship is the fact that we spent so much time together that I did let some important things in my life slip. So it’s time to pick these things back up.

Unfortunately, writing has not been one of those things. I know, I know. I give myself guilt trips all evening as I sit in front of the TV watching episodes of Buffy (I just finished Season 4, by the way). I feel incredibly inspired by all the character development and the crafted story arcs (and they all are good, even if you aren’t into the villain of a particular arc). So I’m trying to pass it off as research–expanding the literature of my mind and stimulating my long-dead writing senses. Thus far I’ve not been inspired enough to actually walk to my computer and work on my memoir, but you know, these things will happen in good time. (Probably after I’ve obsessively made it through all seven seasons of Buffy… ssssshhhhh!) Rest assured, I’m really laying the guilt in thick, though.

On the social front, I’ve joined Fagowees. I decided I need a drinking club with a skiing problem right now. I know it’s a little late in the season to start with a skiing club, but I figured now’s as good a time as any. It gives me a reason to attend a meeting once or twice a month where I get an open bar and some new people to talk to. And, I’ll get a nice name tag. That will be keen. Already, a Fagowee whom I already knew through ABC informed me that I will make a good Fagowee. I think that was his way of telling me that he’s seen how much I can drink. Oops. (No, really, those days are behind me.) They let me do the “shot ski”–a ski with five shot glasses attached to it which is hoisted up while five people take shots off of it at the same time–on Tuesday which was some sort of (voluntary) initiation rite. (Thank you, Diane, for teaching me to do shots in college; it’s been an invaluable skill in my adult life.)

In other news, my car has been giving me all sorts of annoying trouble. My dad’s going to look at it. It’s either the catalytic converter… or an oxygen sensor that got jostled when my dad pulled off the disintegrating cover to the catalytic converter. I’m hoping it’s the later. I totally hate that cars fall apart after 5 or 6 years; my car’s going to be 7 and it’s been paid off for years. I want a new car, but I just don’t want the car payments. Acks. I wish I could just take public transportation everywhere or something.

The medical bills have been a little bracing. Oh, nothing serious. I had an MRI to ensure some migraines I’ve been having are just migraines. It turns out they were and I’m okay, but I’m left to pay $600 for the services. If the doctor had told me it was going to cost me something, I might have reconsidered the peace of mind. To top it off, I just got a bill from a collection agency for some unpaid medical bill from my little trip to the hospital last year when I (embarrassingly) fainted in a restaurant and hit my head on the floor on the way down. (Please, people, if I faint in front of you–and you know why it would happen and it’s your fault for showing me something bloody or discussing former disgusting injuries–DO NOT call EMS!) They had given me a CT scan and apparently I own the hospital some $300 that I don’t remember them billing me.

I wouldn’t be bitching so much about the bills had I not just paid for a Boston Mills 2010-2011 season pass, a plane ticket to Seattle for my summer trip, the full cost of my rental bike in Seattle (in advance–yeah, WTF?), the deposit for several of my accommodations while out west, and an accidental pay-in-advance room rate for my stay in Michigan when I go to the U2 concert. Or if my car wasn’t foreshadowing repair doom. Fortunately, there appears to be a form in the $600 MRI bill that says I can pay it off slowly. I haven’t read the fine print to see if I can qualify; if it is, I think I’ll be doing that. I’m so bummed, though, because I was going to buy a set of 32mm tires for the Surly, which are currently on sale at Century Cycles. Life goes on, I guess.

The best thing that happened to me this week, though, was a surprise gift I received in the mail from my pen pal/high school English teacher/Star Trek buddy, Mr. K: a young Dr. McCoy action figure (from the new Star Trek rebooted movie). Mr. K has been one of my best friends for years. He listened to me through some bad periods in my life in high school and we have been writing to each other since I graduated. He’s attended all the important events of my life: my high school graduation party, my college graduation party, my wedding, Mike’s funeral. He’s always been there for me. He’s always given me kind, supportive words. And somehow he knew something as simple as Dr. McCoy action figure would cheer my mood at just the right moment! I’m so grateful to have him in my life!

I spent a lot of the last few weekends busying myself into exhaustion as well with lots of skiing. I had a great day trip to Seven Springs last Sunday where the snow was unbelievably wonderful and the conditions were almost as good as being out west.  I had to re-learn how to ski in deep snow and skier-made bumps. But my skis were cutting the snow like butter–very forgiving when I didn’t make a good turn around a would-be mogul. As my friend Janet said on Monday morning, “It was as if yesterday was just a dream because I was so tired.  It was a great dream though!”

This weekend, I plan to take it easy… I would love to do another Sunday at Seven Springs with Janet, but the encroaching financial stress has left me feeling a little more frugal. I plan to ski at Boston Mills on Saturday (since I do have that pass and I only need one more trip there to ski off the cost of the season pass–next year I’ll ski free!). I am attending an event that I bid on at my church’s service auction in October called “Humorous Music Night.” Any event with people from my church is fun… and interesting.

So I’m out and about in the world… staying warm… and just trying to focus on keeping myself from wandering into the wilderness of my mind. I’m sorry that my entries on here have been reduced to haiku and pointless rambling like this entry. I’ll get back to my awe-inspiring thoughts and introspective trip reports. As soon as I find my muse. Have you seen her? Tell her I’ll raise her wages.

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