Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Celebrating an Educated Life

Recently, I read an entirely horrifying article on a conservative Catholic website arguing that women do not need a college education. After venting my religious spleen about it in the post titled "Kingdom Come?" on my other blog transforming common days, I started contemplating what a difference higher education has made in my life. How has it shaped who I am and directed me to where I am and guided how I think about, well, pretty much everything?

We'd need a really long bullet list to cover this subject fully, so for this post, I'm going to share just a few random observations celebrating how education changed my life, and then you are invited to share your own.

*Education lifted me up. In my teens, when depression was eating my soul, I found amazing comfort in textbooks. Every time a book opened in front of me, an adventure awaited that would take me out of my misery and into places I could make my own. The world of Math taught me the certainty of numbers and formulas, the Pythagorean theorem that always gives the right answer, the joy of tangents, and the calculus needed to find the area under a curve.

The world of Chemistry gave me a glimpse into the secrets of matter and a healthy understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle...a principle that applies to a lot more than just electrons, actually. Being in the world of Chemistry also taught me the value of clean beakers, Bunsen burners, ventilation hoods, and sniffing very carefully so as not to burn your sinuses.

The world of Literature gave me human truth in the form of story and verse. It showed me how people relate to one another and how and why those relationships go wrong, get made right, grow, change, end. It showed me how other people think, the value and strength of humility, the high price of arrogance, and the consequences of actions and words. It showed me human dignity, human dignity denied, and human dignity recovered. I learned that bawdy millers tell better stories than squires with fancy footwear, that boarding schools can be dangerous places, and that killing your brother and marrying his wife might sound like a good idea at the time, but it can only end badly for you and everyone else, too.

The world of History gave me my past, our past, our collective story of triumph and despair, nobility and nastiness, evolution and devolution. In that world, I saw how the pharaohs built the pyramids and how hieroglyphics worked and how a hooked tool could remove brains through a nose during mummification. I learned how important leadership is and how important trust, honesty, loyalty, and common goals are. I learned why it's important to vote and why the words life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are more than just words.

The world of Biology gave me an understanding of complex systems and showed me the miracle of life in all its diverse forms should never, ever be taken for granted. It showed me that there's a universe in a single drop of pond water and therefore never to assume what I see is ever the whole picture. Biology showed me how muscles contract at the molecular level and how the health of a reef on the other side of the world matters to me here in Ohio. It taught me that even if you name your fetal pig after a perfume, it will still smell like formaldehyde, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating.

How can anyone get bored or stay depressed in such worlds as these?

*Education humbled me. The more I learn, the more I know that I know nothing. Socrates said that first. He was right. Every time I think I have a full grasp of something, new perspectives pop up, new ways of looking at the thing. Just think how biologists used to believe that animals didn't have feelings until they looked at animal brains using functional MRI and discovered they do. Just think how astronomy has changed now that we know how to look for planets orbiting other suns. New information, new ways of seeing, are constantly being developed and change what we think we know.

I will never know everything about anything...and this is wonderful! It means I will never, ever run out of stuff to learn. Which brings me to another point.

*Education turned me into a lifetime learner. Let's just say I have skillz. Put me in a library--the local public library or a major university research facility--and I will find stuff out. No, I'm not a library science expert, but I know how to use the resources available to me to find an article from 1823 on microfiche or rummage the stacks in the 398's in a Dewey library or the PT's in a Library of Congress system and find a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. I scan indexes like a boss and effortlessly charm librarians to help me find out anything at all.

I also know enough, thanks to higher education, to know I can't trust anything I read on the Internet, or in a magazine, or a book. In fact, all information is subject to bias and slant and spin. Words can and do manipulate us daily. Being aware of this makes for better critical thinking skills and alerts us in the first sentence or two that the forwarded email is an urban myth.

There's a process to educated thought and learning, and it's pretty simple to explain. Collect evidence from multiple sources and points of view, apply reason and critical thinking skills to the mess, draw your own conclusions...and always, always, always keep in mind that more information might just change your mind.

That is how higher education taught me to be a lifetime learner.

*Education turned me into a writer. Some of you might be wishing it hadn't at this point. Thank you for staying with me this long.

Now it is your turn. What does your education mean to you? Did life somehow deny you a formal higher education that you wanted? What did that do to you? Did you happily end your formal education or do you yearn for more? Have you found your experiences as a lifetime learner more or less satisfying than formal education? Do you wish you were more of a lifetime learner? If so, how could you be?

Please discuss.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gratitude Journal #205

Today, I am grateful for fall weather, for furry dogs, and warm blankets.

Today, I am grateful for pumpkin spice lattes.

Today, I am grateful for good books and good friends.

Today, I am grateful for Jack's amazing experience at Camp Kern and all the people who made it so.

Today, I am grateful for getting some decorating finished in my house.

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gratitude Journal #204

Today, I am grateful for the whole Ironman experience...for spending time with Angela and Mike and, of course, my honey; for visiting with Nicole; for good food; for safe travel; for two finishers; for my mom who took good care of her grandsons. Good times.

Today, I am grateful for rest and recovery. Ironman sort of burned me out, and I didn't even do the race. George is already talking about doing another race (not Ironman!) in October. I just want to get caught up on phone calls and housework. And I am.

Today, I am grateful for rest and recovery of loved ones who are having health issues.

Today, I am grateful for Camp Kern's fifth-grade program. That's where Jack is for a few days, on his first overnight away from family. He's doing just fine, and so am I.

Today, I am grateful for kids who accept kids who are different.

Today, I am grateful for Nick's great start in show choir. And his new haircut. Boy looked pretty shaggy there for a while! I'm also grateful for our conversation on the drive to the barber. Nick is growing up into a smart, insightful young man.

Today, I am grateful for positive attitudes and perspectives.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Video of IM Moo

George found a really nice video of this year's Ironman Wisconsin. Enjoy!


For those of us in the United States, the digits 9-1-1 are literally a call for help. To reach Emergency Services, we dial 911 on our phones and are connected to a specially trained operator who gets us the emergency help we ambulance, fire truck, police.

Add a slash to those numbers, and their meaning changes. 9/11 signifies the date on which three thousand people died when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania.

It's the date we in America remember all too clearly because we were sending 911 calls of prayer heavenward as 911 phone calls went to the emergency operators. Emergency services responded to the calls, and then so many first responders lost their lives when the towers collapsed. It was horrible to watch on television, and I can only imagine how those who saw it happen in front of them felt.

Today, on the anniversary of that horrible day, we remember those lives lost, the mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and husbands and wives and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who died because of hate.

We remember that day of helplessness and hurting. And we remember how we came together in the days following. We remember the international support we received. We remember the help and healing and love.

But today, mostly, we remember the loss. And our hearts break all over again.

God's grace, peace, and comfort to all who suffered personal tragedy that day. Please know that we remember and lift you up and cry with you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sunday, September 8, 2013

George finished.

Looks a little crazy, doesn't he?

We're getting him cleaned up and heading out to cheer Mike on his expected finish shortly.

I'll give a short report when Mike is finished, and a final, more detailed, race report will come after we get home and unpacked. But I want to thank all of you for your support and encouragement and prayers. He FINISHED Ironman #4!

Two Down, One to Go

Both George and Mike are off their bikes and on the run.

George around 3:00

Mike running well at 4:15

Both the male and female winners are finished, and we're seeing some guys with finisher medals walking around. We're also seeing people without finisher medals lying on benches...and one woman in the back of an ambulance as the medics closed the doors.

I need tissues. To see people work so hard, give so much, and still not have breaks my heart. They are crazy, but I can't help but pull for them all to finish, for them all to have Mike Reilly call their names. It's just awful how that doesn't happen.

Let's hope and pray George and Mike have enough today. 26.2 more mile at a time.

The Race Is ON!

Mike and George got off to a good start this morning. Weather's and overcast, just like George likes it. Hopefully, it doesn't get too hot today.

Here are a few pictures from this morning's start.

Mike, Angela, George, and I

Mike and George, wet-suited and
ready to swim!

The swim is over. Here's the best picture I got from the first transition (swim to bike), or T1.

George is the guy in the Air Force jersey sort of hunched over with the woman kneeling in front of him...mildly disturbing if you don't know what's going on. There's a line of blue-shirted volunteers smearing sunscreen on anyone who wants it. George's legs are getting coated.

Once skin safety was taken care of, off he ran to jump on his trusty steed and pedal an insanely long time.

You can track George and Mike and all the other athletes using the Tracker on THIS WEBSITE. George's bib number is 2424, and Mike's is 2478.

George's swim time was 1:21:53.

Mike's swim time was 1:56:50.

I'll keep you posted on their progress and if Ironman puts up the live feed of the finish later today, I'll give you the link to that. I hope they have it this's amazing to watch all these crazy people achieve their goal!!!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Monomaniacal Terrace and Other Amusing Observations on a Saturday

Note: If you're getting this via email Sunday afternoon, the race is on, and it's likely George and Mike are already on the marathon. Please go directly to Questioning my Intelligence's home page for the latest updates on their progress!

The last 24 hours have been rather relaxing, in a calm-before-the-storm, butterflies-in-the-stomach sort of way for George and Mike. I've heard George say--at least three times--that every time he thinks about the marathon, he wants to vomit.

I hear this, and I just chuckle.

Because I'm not running that marathon. He is. He volunteered to do this. He paid big bucks to do this. He trained for months to do this. He. Is. Going. To. Do. This.

And I am not. Which I find enormously amusing.

George and Mike signed up for next year's race this morning. Yep. These guys are already signing up for stormy butterflies next year. I'm starting to suspect that IM racing is an addiction. These guys know they will hate their beloved, precious bikes at the end of 112 miles tomorrow. These guys know they could end up in the medical tent getting IV fluids tomorrow evening. These guys know how hard they've sweated and trained to get here.

And they are prepared to do it all again next year. The rest of us are just going to have to scratch our heads and cheer them on, baffled but entertained at the same time.

George paying big bucks for next year's race.

Angela and I followed the guys to Monona Terrace this morning, stopping at Starbucks to get coffee for everyone. As we tried to find them in line, I asked a volunteer if we were going in the right direction for registration for next year, and she said, "Yes. You're joining the crazy people?" I replied, "No, we're just taking coffee to them!"

After registration, we went to the rooftop of Monona Terrace and drank coffee and watched as the buoys for the swim course were installed. In previous years, the swim was a two-lap loop, but this year, it's just one big (2.4 mile) loop. Those buoys kept on going, all in a row, spaced 100 meters apart.

George may or may not have made another comment about vomiting.

On Monomaniacal Terrace

By the way, autocorrect on my iPhone changed Monona Terrace to Monomaniacal Terrace when I emailed this photo to my computer. It's an accident that seems somehow deeply appropriate this weekend. Or perhaps we should coin a new word...tri-maniacal.

I like it.

This afternoon, I met a friend for (more) coffee. Nicole lives near Madison, and she's been so kind as to come to town when George and I come here. It's just wonderful to sit and chat for a few hours with another mom/stamper/blogger who is so nice and funny and charming! Plus, she brought me wine and coffee. YES! Sister of the heart, for sure!

People who do Ironman races and their support crews are good people. I've been chatting with people in elevators, on sidewalks, in line at the IM store while buying my Ironmate shirt. Smiling faces and friendly, warm conversation are just everywhere. I've heard people with British and German accents and every American accent possible. People see someone with a race wristband and offer up good luck. "Have a good race" and "good luck" fall easily from smiling lips.

Triathlon is a kind of insanity that brings out the best in people. I have no idea why all these athletes want to punish their bodies for 140.6 miles, but human beings are amazing and unique for simply doing things because they can. And the rest of us slugs are perfectly happy to encourage them.

Tomorrow evening, the Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly will be shouting "You are an Ironman" over and over and over as several thousand tri-maniacal men and women cross the finish line.

And it will be utterly cool.

Or udderly cool, depending on how you look at it.

I love Madison. Mooooo!

Friday, September 6, 2013

From the Mouth of an Ironman Athlete

People always have lots of questions about Ironman races...what they are, how people train, what they eat, how they pee. I decided to interview George on the drive to Madison and get the inside scoop from a three-time Ironman finisher.

In a nutshell, an official Ironman race is sponsored by World Triathlon Corporation. A full-distance Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run...for a total of 140.6 miles. To finish, an athlete must complete the full race in under 17 hours. Otherwise, it doesn't count.

In 2012, Sister Madonna Buder became the oldest woman to complete an Ironman race. She was 82.

Now, don't you feel like a couch potato? Me, too.

But let's hear about Ironman from George's point of view.

The single most important question: why under heaven do you do Ironman-distance triathlons?
I don't know. Because it's hard. It forces me to work out. Otherwise, I'd be lazy. You can't phone it in on race day. And it's an incredible feeling to finish. The high lasts a long time. And I love the energy of an Ironman weekend.

When do you start training for an Ironman?
I never really stop, but for an early-September IM, I start stepping up the work-outs in early June. That might be too late, though.

About how many hours a week do you train?
Max, about 10-11 hours a week, which is very low compared to other IM athletes. I don't like spending too much time away from my family for training.

How do you feel about this year's race?
I feel good about the swim and bike as long as I'm not stupid on the bike. [Stupid would be going out too hard on the first lap and not leaving enough in his legs for the second lap and the marathon.] I'm terrified of the run. As long as I make the turn on the marathon without cramping, I'll be okay. I predict another five-hour marathon and a 12:45 total.

Triathlon is a gear-intensive sport. Swimming requires wetsuit and goggles; biking requires a highly-specialized bike, helmet, shoes, water bottles; running requires high performance shoes. Add to that clothing, GPS and performance computers, watt-meters for bikes, special nutrition, and such. What's your favorite piece of gear?
That's a silly question. My BIKE! It's a Specialized Shiv. The frame is extremely aerodynamic and I'm very comfortable on it.

How many miles a year do you put on your bike?
Not sure. Over a couple thousand, though.

On race day, how do you keep going over such a long distance?
"Stay in the now." Best advice ever from professional triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser. Don't think about how far you have to go. It's so easy to think about it, and then your mind gets really negative really fast.

What's your favorite part of this race in Madison? Other than finishing, of course!
Treading water just before the race, sun coming up on the water, the National Anthem playing, thousands of athletes' heads with swim caps bobbing in the water. Then, after the swim gets going and you get out of the crush and find your rhythm, just stroking easy and zen-ing out in the water. It's peaceful. Then, there's one hill on the bike course. The crowd of spectators is huge, and there's a narrow passage for your bike, with all these people cheering you on. That's the closest I will ever get to experiencing the Tour de France.

What's your least favorite part of this race?
On the bike, there are a couple of spots that are soooo boring. And there's a stretch in this park on the run that is demoralizing on the first lap. No spectators, you're all alone, and you still have 18 miles to go. On the second lap, that stretch isn't so bad because you know you only have about five miles to go.

What do you do to insure good luck on race day? Are you superstitious about the race?
I don't believe in luck. You get lucky by training. But I am sort of superstitious about some things. I don't bring any Ironman finisher t-shirts, hats, water bottles, or other gear from previous races with me, and I don't buy any Ironman gear until after the race. I also eat dinner the night before the race at the same restaurant...although that failed me in 2010.

You'll burn roughly 7,000 calories during the race. What do you eat on race day?
In the morning I have a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I'll have Crank Sports eFuel in my water bottles, and some Honey Stinger waffles. On the run, I'll grab what they have at the aid stations.

What company would you want to sponsor you if you went professional?
Sam Adams Brewing. I have a highly-detailed pitch for them.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to do an Ironman?
Unless you are genetically gifted, you've gotta respect the distance or you will pay for it on race day.

Do you pee in your wetsuit?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But I do not pee myself on the bike. I stop at the porta-potties.

What's the best thing that people can yell at you for encouragement during the race?
It's great when people yell, "Keep going!" But I hate it when they yell, "You're looking good" when clearly you're dying. And the people who yell, "You're almost there!" at mile two of the marathon, I want to kill those people.

Now it's your turn! What questions do you have for George about this incredibly insane thing called Ironman?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mooing in Madison

We're here in Madison for Ironman Wisconsin, also known as IM Moo.


This will be George's sixth time doing IM Moo. (He also tried the Lake Placid race, but as that involved being taken off the course in an ambulance, we don't talk about it...much.) You'd think once would be enough for any 140.6-mile race, but you'd think wrong because you are not crazy like George and the 2,700 other people who will be racing on Sunday.

Our hotel is near the Wisconsin Capitol. Pretty, no?

This year we're joined by George's sister, Angela, and brother-in-law, Mike. The three of them are posing in front of the entry to the swim of the race on lovely Lake Monona.

Mike, Angela, and George

Mike and George will both be doing the race. Angela and I will be carrying their bike pumps and cheering them on during the race.

And I'll document the insanity tell you all about it. Feel free to ask questions, comment, and cheer George and Mike on with us. It's bound to be entertaining, and you don't have to sweat if you don't want to.

We'll let the athletes do that for us.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Gratitude Journal #203

Today, I am grateful for a three-day weekend after a glorious first week of school. Both boys had an exciting and positive week. I was particularly proud of Jack, who stepped back into the routine like a pro and aced his review test on telling time.

Today, I am grateful for simple food prepared perfectly. Chef George is on a roll!

Today, I am grateful for beginning the week as liturgist. I was so uplifted to read the word of God for the people of God, especially when the day's reading was one of my favorite passages! (For the record, it's Mark 12:28-34.) Yesterday was Communion Sunday, and what a powerfully humbling experience to help serve at God's table.

Today, I am grateful for modern medicine and healing. Several people I know are facing surgery and I pray they are well cared for and heal without complications.

Today, I am grateful for paper, ink, and stamps.

Today, I am grateful my mother is coming to visit and care for the boys while George and I go to Madison for the Ironman race. I'll keep you all posted via this blog about our trip!

What are you grateful for today?