Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

To all of you, wherever you are and whether you celebrate Christmas or another holy day or nothing at all on December 25th....

I wish for us all four things:

Hope that things will get better.

Peace in our hearts, even in the midst of conflict.

Joy in every small blessing...and in every great one, too.

Love that is unearned, unrepayable, and unending, flowing to us and through us to others.

And to those who do celebrate Christmas, may you be blessed by the remembered presence of the Messiah in the manger, Emmanuel, God with Us.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Radical Self Care: Suggestion Number Three

We've explored how hobbies and rituals are important to self care, and today, we're going to learn one very powerful word that allows us to take care of ourselves in many, many areas of life.

That word is no.


As in, no, thank you, I don't wish to chair that committee. Or no, I will not bake 12-dozen cookies for a cookie swap two days before Christmas. Or no, I will not find seven different outfits to fit the seven themed Holiday Spirit Days for my eighth grader.

I'm not making that last one up. The student council came up with the following plan for showing holiday spirit on the last seven days of class:

12/12 Merry Monday Morning (PJ day)
12/13 Holiday Head to Toe [sic] Tuesday
12/14 Worst Wacky Sweater Wednesday
12/15 Favorite (Winter) Sports Team Thursday
12/16 Flannel Friday
12/19 Grinch Green Monday
12/20 Rudolph Red Tuesday
Clothes should be school appropriate. 

Tortured alliteration and hyphen neglect aside, this list represents exactly what is wrong with our culture. Well, one thing that's wrong.

It's too much. 

Too much time, too much planning...for what purpose? How many children have a wardrobe specifically tailored to this list? Not my son, that's for sure. The list is absurd because it's even a list. One day of holiday clothes, perhaps the last day before break, would have been festive. Most children are able to find a Santa hat or red sweater or jingle-bell necklace or Rudolph antlers or Christmas tree socks or a green scarf or a homemade paper snowflake to pin to their shirt. One day is do-able.

But seven days of different outfits?


I might even have gotten fancy and said, "Nopity, nope, nope, nope." 

More is not always better. In fact, more can cripple us if we let it. Part of wisdom is discerning the difference between genuinely worthwhile activities and time wasters.

I am not always wise, but the Holiday Spirit Days...that was a no-brainer.


Radical self care requires us to examine how we spend our time and to allocate it reasonably. Allocating time reasonably must, of necessity, include saying no when appropriate. It's the when appropriate that trips many of us up. We say yes because we feel obligated, we feel peer pressure, we feel vulnerable not hanging with the herd. Aren't there lions out there waiting to feed on outliers?


In fact, it's sensible and good to have a healthy no. Most of our neighbors have gorgeous Christmas lighting. I suspect a few of them paid a service to put the lights up. It's grand to drive down our street at night, and we enjoy the spectacle.

We, in comparison, might as well be Jewish or Jehovah's Witnesses. We have a small conifer by the front door wrapped in lights and a large lit reindeer standing near it. George made a comment about how pathetic our display is compared to our neighbors' displays.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that putting up Christmas lights is a waste of time or energy. What I'm saying is that if doing something brings you joy, do it. If it feels like a burden, don't do it. We all have different set-points for blessings and burdens. Pay attention to your needs.

So I said yes to one more thing: LED candles for the windows. These brilliant battery-operated lights come with a built-in timer. They burn for eight hours, automatically turn off for 16 hours, and then come back on...without any effort on my part. Nor will I need to spend hours out in the freezing cold taking down a bunch of lights.

And yes, our display is still pathetic compared to our neighbors' displays, but comparison is the thief of joy.

Say no to comparison, too.

Where in your life do you have trouble saying no? What unimportant activities or obligations can you say no to right now to engage in radical self care? Is Christmas more of a burden than a blessing because you say yes to too many things? How might you find more Christmas spirit by doing less next year? 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Much Ado about Nothing

In his article "Nothing Really Matters," science journalist Adam Hadhazy writes about cosmic voids and how they might explain dark matter. Not being particularly well educated in astronomy, I skimmed the article until finding this gem of a conclusion:

"If current reckonings of dark energy...are right, the universe will keep on expanding at an ever-faster pace. The voids will swell even larger, eventually taking up almost all the space in space. Distant galaxies will slip out of view, and with them the history of the universe.... If any vestige of humanity remains many billions of years from now, and the universe's ciphers remain undecoded, our descendants might have only an all-encompassing abyss to stare into--not just space, but truly, a void." (Discover, Dec. 2016)


That's depressing.

We are running out of time to decode the mysteries of the universe!

Of course, since I can't decode the mysteries of Mr. Hadhazy's article, it's doubtful I'll be much help decoding the mysteries of the universe. But someone needs to get on this. How many billions of years did it take for us to evolve from the primordial soup? How much longer do we have before the endless void is all that remains, especially with the Donald in charge of the nuclear codes?

Let's not think about that.

Demetri Martin, the comedian, has a joke about mysteries. He asks why mysteries are always negative. You know, "Who killed the butler?" Or "Who stole the diamond?" Why can't it be "Who left me cupcakes?"

Wouldn't that be a lovely mystery to solve? A cupcake mystery. Sweet!

Fortunately, the possibility of an all-encompassing abyss billions of years in the future is not a legit problem for homo sapiens, and I doubt Mr. Hadhazy is worried, despite the ominous and dramatic conclusion of his article. I suspect my brain went where it did because it's currently being regulated by the Ministry of Silliness, which happens occasionally.

But when my son Jack was younger, he was worried that the sun would explode and destroy earth, which scientists say will eventually happen...billions of years from now. Jack simply couldn't understand that the sun going supernova is the least of our worries. Time meant nothing to him. Everything--including past and present--was now.

Which, in a sense, it is. Not the supernova thing, of course, but when we live our lives in the past, we stop moving forward. When we live our lives in the future, nothing gets done now. Right now is what we've got. And the now is good enough for Jimmy Buffett, so it's good enough for me.

To solve the mysteries of the universe, science asks lots of questions about what happened in the past, what's going on now, and what will happen in the future. These are fun questions to explore, and I'm in the camp that says God turned primordial soup into sophisticated brains capable of asking these sorts of questions, and it would be disrespectful not to use them. Fortunately, there are lots of different ways to look into the past, to see what's going on now, and to speculate about the future.

And also fortunately, some people actually enjoy speculating about dark matter and the all-encompassing abyss, but I shall not let their speculations make me quiver in existential angst.

Instead, I'll conduct experiments to solve the mystery of the Golden Ratio, which is simply the proper ratio of peppermint to mocha in my favorite seasonal coffee drink from Starbucks. Because that's just the sort of mystery that gives meaning to life right now.

Just like cupcakes.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Radical Self Care: Suggestion Number Two

We've taken a look at the importance of hobbies in radical self care. Hobbies tap into our creativity, our need for self-expression, and the satisfaction brought on by process creating a product. They connect us with like-minded people in community where we can share our enthusiasm. And they keep our brains active and learning.

Suggestion number two for radical self care fills a very different need.


What are the rituals of your life? Amidst chaos and busyness, we need some things to be dependable, safe, comfortable, and comforting. Child-development specialists insist that a solid bedtime routine does more than help children transition from wake to sleep. Repetition of bedtime rituals makes children feel safe and secure. Yes, children often balk at bedtime, but sticking with a routine teaches them that they can successfully manage transitions from doing to resting, from fast to slow. Self-regulation begins with a healthy bedtime routine.

Adults need rituals, too, and for much the same reasons. Our rituals can be as simple as brushing teeth after breakfast to start the day quite literally minty fresh, or they might be as elaborate as attending a worship service every week. When I was in college and needed to study for an exam, I found a carrel in the bowels of Perkins Library, read all the graffiti carved into the desk and written on the wall ("Free the Bound Periodicals!"), unpacked my backpack, and hit the books with gusto.

Rituals can, of course, become disabling if they become too rigid or too complicated. But generally, we need them to ease us through our days, our weeks, our seasons of life. Rituals need to be dependable enough to give us the comfort and stability we crave, but flexible enough to accommodate the realities of life. Some rituals that serve a purpose at one time might become a hindrance at another time.

Here are a few rituals I use to take care of myself...some very small and ordinary, and others much more time-consuming and involved.

1. A quick stretch upon getting out of bed. (I learned that from watching my dog.)

2. Morning coffee while reading.

3. Cleaning and organizing my craft supplies when my creativity dries up. (This can sometimes take days and always follows a very predictable pattern. It also always works to jump-start my creativity.)

4. Praying as I fall asleep. (I used to berate myself for falling asleep while praying until I realized that giving God my last waking thoughts was actually quite wonderful.)

5. Weekly worship and weekly Bible study.

6. Getting all supplies together before starting a project.

Radical self care requires intentional actions, and rituals are intentional actions with specific purposes. They are orderly and precise in a life of chaos and ambiguity. What sorts of rituals comfort you and prepare you for dealing with the nonsense of daily life? How might you incorporate new rituals into your days to give you a greater sense of joy, peace, happiness...or maybe just "not craziness"?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Control: A Myth

Nature tries to teach us one of the most important lesson of life using just the weather...and we don't pay attention. One day last spring, it was 50 degrees and sunny. The next day, the wind gusted to 50 miles per hour and it snowed.

The snow was sticking. To trees. To grass. To our deck.

Our power flickered.

Dinner was almost derailed.

We are NOT in control.

Thank you, Jesus!

The responsibility would be crushing, don't you think? Yet we assume that responsibility all the time. We try to control others but, in the end, merely irritate them and look like fools for trying.

We expect the world--and everyone in it--to be the way we want the world--and everyone in it--to be and get angry when the world--and everyone in it--isn't what we expect.

Expectation is the mother of disappointment.

In his book Assholes: A Theory, philosopher Aaron James points out that we are much happier when we accept the reality of a situation and focus on controlling what we can control: our own actions and reactions. James' book focuses on dealing with assholes (whom, he argues, we can rarely change anyway, so why fight a fight you will lose?), but the basic idea generalizes out into many areas of life.

I suspect people with control issues just want to make the world more comfortable for themselves, but--and I speak from personal experience here--when we try to control the world, we end up miserable, bitter, angry failures. The world, like the weather, is just so uncooperative!

What, then, can we do? After five decades of life experience, I'm left with a few basic rules that seem to work on my path away from miserable, bitter, angry failure to something resembling happiness. Perhaps you've already figured these out (and faster than I did!), but here they are.

1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Or, put more colloquially, don't be an asshole.)
2. Put your energy into building up people, situations, and institutions you love rather than tearing down what you hate.
3. Most of the time, it's more important to be kind than to be right. But occasionally, it's more important to be right than kind. Wisdom is needed to discern the difference.
4. Compromise isn't weakness. It's a step forward.
5. At the end of the day, give it to God and go to sleep.

In the aftermath of an election that upset a lot of people (including me), these reminders come in handy. We aren't, individually, in control of much at all, but we can control our individual response to the situation.

Let's make it a good one.

What other life rules would you add to this list? Please share in the comments!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Radical Self Care: Suggestion Number One

I first encountered the phrase "radical self care" when reading one of  Anne Lamott's books.

Think about that phrase: radical self care. Radical self care isn't just getting a mani-pedi every two weeks. That's superficial care, affecting the surface of our lives. Sure, pretty toes and fingers might make us happy, but as anyone who's ruined a manicure within three minutes of leaving the salon can tell you, that brand of happiness is fleeting.

Radical self care goes deeper, promoting fundamental changes in our soul that grow us in some way and make us better people. We need radical self care, especially when stress and chaos and conflict rear their ugly heads. Often, we are harder on ourselves than we would ever be on others, letting our inner critic run amok in the tender places of our souls. Radical self care seeks to squash that inner critic...or at least turn it to constructive, rather than destructive, commentary.

Radical self care makes perfect sense. Safety briefings on airplanes include the warning to put your oxygen mask on in case of emergency before helping someone else. You're at your best when your mind is oxygenated, sharp, alert. Deprived of oxygen, you become confused, disoriented, stupid, and possibly dead. Put your own oxygen mask on, and you can help yourself and others. Neglect it, and you and those you might have helped will suffer.

When we feel battered and bruised and buffeted by the slings and arrows of fortune, we have to take care of ourselves.

I just love these! I want to put this in my house somewhere!:

Many of us, however, simply don't. Our own needs go unmet because we are too busy caring for others...and our souls suffocate. Sadly, too often, we don't even realize we're gasping for air. We're miserable and have no idea why.

Do you need to engage in some radical self care? Feeling lost and unsure where to start? Well, let's spend some time exploring various ways you can take care of yourself...radically. Today we will start with one of my favorite forms of radical self care: a hobby.

Researchers have found that people who enthusiastically participate at least one hobby are happier, smarter, and mentally and physically healthier, than people who don't. The best hobbies are those that incorporate making something...building Legos or model airplanes, cooking, sewing,  knitting, painting, and such, or hobbies that take you outdoors, like photography, birding, and hiking.

(Sadly, reading doesn't qualify as a hobby as researchers define the word, but reading is its own category of radical self care that we will discuss later in this series.)

Years ago, I took up paper crafting, starting with calligraphy, then moving on to making handmade books, and then to making greeting cards and scrapbooks. You might say (and George would agree with you) that I got a little carried away with paper crafting, but along with reading, it's absolutely the best form of self care for me with the deepest and most fundamental positive effects.

My Crafty Headquarters

The positive effects are, in fact, so varied and numerous that they would fill a book, but here are four big ones to get you thinking about your own preferred hobbies in a different way or to encourage you to consider finding a hobby for your own radical self care.

First, paper crafting gives my soul a creative outlet. From that, I've learned to let go of perfectionism (well, mostly) and to embrace process and failure as good and necessary. For someone who had her panties in a perfectionist bunch for years and who bulldozed her way to each and every goal, this was a revelation. I've slowed down and enjoy the process in all its messiness and mistakes...and am working to generalize this lesson to other areas of my life.

Second, paper crafting allows me to focus intensely on something other than the news, bills, my son's special education plan, my aches and pains, the mess in my basement, and our POTUS elect. Essentially, I make my crafting time a form of meditation. Being able to intentionally focus on a positive and enriching activity boosts my mood every time. A concentrated break from the chaos to create, get inky fingers, make a mess of my own that's well within my control to clean up...these things are sometimes all the therapy I need to put all those other things in proper perspective.

Third, I learn new things all the time while paper crafting, which helps keep my brain and creative self excited. The thrill of trying a new technique, watching a new product video, and reading new ways to use old supplies all get my creative juices flowing and energize me to grow and improve my skills.

Fourth, it's a hobby that connects me to other people. The products of my paper crafting almost always go to other people, and by blogging my crafty explorations, I have connected to wonderful people all over the planet. I send cards to friends and family and strangers in New Zealand, and also donate them to my church's card shop. Some people save all the cards I send them, others toss them as soon as the occasion has passed. Either way, they received a bit of love from me. And that makes me feel good.

Creativity, meditation, learning, and connection...four healthy side-effects of engaging in a hobby.

Now it's your turn. Share your hobbies with us and tell us a bit about how they enrich your life and contribute to your radical self care. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Protest Sign I Would Gladly Carry

With all the Trump protesting going on, I think it's important to remember that there are other causes worthy of sign waving. (There is, however, no excuse for burning effigies, destroying property, or harming/threatening/bullying anyone. I thought we were better than that, people!)

Anyway, flitting through my Facebook feed today, I saw a link to an article about people protesting the lack of snow in Colorado this fall with clever signs saying "Powder to the People" and "More Snow, Less Hate," which reminded me about this particular protest that strikes at the heart of everything I hold dear about November.

Stop protesting about lgbt and start protesting about this because this is just wrong!!!:
The poster with the circle and slash over a Christmas tree...
the person holding it is my hero.

Let's honor Thanksgiving as it should be honored...with autumnal colors, apple fritters, the smell of burning leaves, warm sweaters, and pumpkin spice everything. Let's not shop on Thanksgiving but instead choose to spend time with our family and friends sharing food, fun, football, and parades.

The day after Thanksgiving, pull out the Christmas decorations and smear the world in red and green, tinsel and holly, peppermint and wassail.

That is the proper order of things.

Who's with me?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reality Check

Tuesday, I felt like a cynical grown-up and wished I had this shirt.

Wednesday, I felt like Hamlet.

Thursday, I felt lots of things.

At book club in the morning, I felt the truth of this statement in a room full of smart, kind people who are right.

At an IEP/ETR* planning meeting at the junior high, I felt both completely ignorant and thrilled at how creative special education people can be while brainstorming how a special-needs student who wants to take French in high school might actually be able to do it at his own level and pace.

This evening, I'm feeling like binging on Pinterest because, well, this:

Three days. So much to process. And pictures of Samoyeds fighting lobsters.

Life can be a little weird sometimes.

Thought for the Day: Life can be absurd, and it's best to laugh and breathe and practice some self care when things get really weird. How have you practiced self care this week?

*Individual Education Program/Evaluation Team Report...special education stuff.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Inner Pollyanna Flower Child Blooms

Take a deep breath. In through your nose, down into your belly, and out through your mouth.




You are alive. You are breathing.

So am I.

You might be asking what we should do next, in a world offering up plenty of crazy at the moment.

So am I.

Years ago, on Sunday, July 20, 2008, to be precise, this blog went live with an essay about my existential crisis. This morning, I have a new existential crisis, one brought on by my continued breathing in a world where the loudest, brashest, greediest, rudest, scariest narcissist person wins.

Yes, I still have a penchant for melodrama, but I've also developed a habit of gratitude over the past eight years that kicked in almost as soon as my brain finished screaming, "Nooooooooooooo!"

That's when this thought popped into my head: there's always, always, always something to be thankful for.

I turn 50 in less than two weeks. That's something to be thankful for. It's also galvanizing me to write. Things have been dormant on my blogs for a while, and there's not much point in exploring whatever writerly angst or malaise kept me quiet for so long. What matters is that I've found fresh words and renewed focus.

I invite you to join me on my quest to put more good words out there--words of peace, love, compassion, kindness, cooperation, unity, inclusion. We need to pour forth good words until the ugly words are drowned by a tsunami of love.

My inner Pollyanna flower child is blooming. Care to bloom with me?

Thought for the day: We cannot transform the world to be kinder until we first transform ourselves to be kinder in the world. What one small thing can you do today to make yourself kinder?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Race Day Update #3

The most important picture of the day:

All three finished. John with a time of 15:15:30. George with a time of 14:31:30. Rob with a time of 12:28:49.

Dell Finney is still out on the course but estimated to finish this year. I so wish I had the energy to go watch him and cheer him on, but as the saying goes, stick a fork in me 'cause I'm done.

It has been an amazing day, full of joy and fun, a friendly clown and a very docile boxer who sniffed my feet, Patriot Day observances, and an iPhone battery that lasted just long enough. Good times.

Thanks for following today's adventure. All the well-wishes and congratulations are very much appreciated.

Peace out.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Race Day Update #2

The marathon has begun! All three of our intrepid Springboro racers are on the marathon. Here's an update of times.

George's bike time was 6:29:53, and he's pacing on the first four miles of the run at about 12 minute miles. That's awesome!

Rob's bike time was 6:13:47, with an awesome pace of 9:18 per mile at 8.9 miles. Rob is a really fast runner!

John's bike time was 7:09:44, and no run pace is showing on the tracker yet.

Dell Finney's bike time was 7:56:28, and he's on the run!

Soldier running with his pack and the flag.
In combat boots. Respect. 

Rob, who almost ran right past a whole bunch of screaming
fans calling his name. He was in the zone. 

Race Day Update #1

So far, so good! We are almost five hours into the race and here's how things stand.

George Raihala came out of the water at 1:13:38 and did the first 39.5 miles of the bike at a good pace.

Rob Ekin came out of the water at 1:14:23 and did the first 39.5 of the bike at a slightly better pace than George. The two of them are very close so far, but Rob is wicked fast on the run, so that won't last!

John Seminary came out of the water at 1:24:49 and might have had a flat or some other trouble in the first 39.5 on the bike, as his second split pace was unusually low. Hopefully at the next split we'll see that he's recovered from whatever snafu affected the second split time.

Dell Finney had a great swim at 1:20:36 but doesn't yet have a second bike split time. His first split (18.3 miles) was a solid 15.47 mile per hour pace though, so way to go, Dell! Update: His second bike split puts him at 13:63 mph, which is slow but still moving forward!

I'm keeping watch on the times through an app on my phone, but you can follow along at the Athlete Tracker online.

Ironman Live coverage will be available later. Follow the link and you'll see it when it's available. The Live Blog is on the sidebar of the page, and it's mainly following the pro women but occasionally has shots of volunteers and such as well.

Here are some pictures from this beautiful, beautiful morning in Madison.

Part of the bike transition area. There are 2400 bikes racked her,
worth about $3 million.

John, Rob, and George getting into their wetsuits. Rob and George
are both unusually nervous this year, but John said he was experiencing
his usual pre-race nerves. Rob and George were trying not to throw up.

Sunrise over Lake Monona. Absolutely beautiful.
Note all the kayaks and paddle boards. Lots of safety for the swimmers.

The race begins with a cannon shot at 7:00. 
 After the start, I dashed to the hotel to drop off George's triathlon bag and bike pump, and stumbled across a very somber and moving memorial service in front of the Capitol. The contrast between the loud and high-energy start of the race and this quiet, peaceful memorial was striking. We need both, don't we, after 15 years. We don't forget, but we will not stop striving. Thank you, first responders and military service personnel. Thank you.

The colors. 

Military service persons.

A military band.

Flag raised by two fire ladders. So moving. 

After the guys were safely on the bike, Rob's parents, his wife, John's wife, and I went to the Old Fashioned for brunch, and we were met by Marcia, one of my blog readers. I'm so grateful she chose to come cheer George on this morning...and it was so fun meeting her and having a meal together. Thanks, Marcia!

Me and Marcia, beaming!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

On the Eve of the Race

If you're reading this in email, be sure to scroll down for Saturday's earlier posts.

Bike and transition bags at race site. Check.

Carbo loading at Tutto Pasta complete. Check.

Feet up, killing time until lights out. Check.

We will rise at 4:00 central time in the morning. George will prepare his nutrition for the day, eat a honey-and-peanut-butter sandwich, drink a Coke, and try not to barf from nerves. We will head down to the start around 5:15. At 6:15 or so, he, Rob, and John will have wetsuits on and walk to the swim start.

It takes a lot of time to get 2,700 or so athletes across the timing mat (which is maybe 12 feet across) and into the water. The professional athletes will start at 6:45, and everyone else when the cannon goes off at 7:00.

If you're the praying kind, please pray for a safe race for everyone tomorrow...racers, volunteers, spectators, random people who get caught in the chaos.

If you want to follow the race as it happens tomorrow, I will post periodically here, so check back often. You may also follow the race on the Ironman website.

The Athlete Tracker is here.
George's Bib #2677
Rob's Bib #2310
John's Bib #2693
Dell's Bib #1800

There will be a live feed on the IM website of the finish sometime in the afternoon, and you can watch each finisher cross the line. I will let you know an estimate of the time George, Rob, and John will cross, as well as Dell Finney, in case you'd like to watch.

And now we are off to sleep and dream about cow medals and Mike Riley saying "You are an Ironman!"

May it be so.

Past Performance and Call for Q&A

Repeat performance at Ironman races is extremely common. This is George's eighth year at IM Moo, and he's done Mont Tremblant and Lake Placid, making this his tenth attempt in 12 years. 

Just let that roll around in your head for a minute. Tenth attempt in 12 years. 

Let's revisit those previous nine races in George's own words (slightly edited for PG-13 rating). For those who don't know, DNF stands for "did not finish" and PR for "personal record."

Ironman Wisconsin 2005:  "DNF at start of second lap of run.  Horribly hot, windy day that sucked.  Cramps crushed me on the bike."

Ironman Wisconsin 2006:  "First finish; 13:25 on a cool, rainy day.  Never got above 60F, IIRC.  Skinny people were shivering while they ran it go so cold on the run.  Epic day."

Ironman Lake Placid 2007:  "Ambulance ride to the med tent at mile 14 of the marathon when I couldn’t walk straight.  2 IVs later and I felt much better.  Couldn’t believe I had another DNF."

Ironman Wisconsin 2008:  "Great day; PR in 12:41."
Ironman Wisconsin 2009:  "Had dreams of going sub-12, and went too hard on the bike too early to make it happen.  PR’ed with a 12:36."

Ironman Wisconsin 2010:  "Wheels came off at mile 14 of the marathon.  Bad year of training; burned out on Ironman, and just didn’t have the mental fortitude to finish a race I should have finished.  DNF."

Ironman Wisconsin 2013:  "Back after a 2 year hiatus; older plus bad knees limited my run training; 14:05 finish."

Ironman Wisconsin 2014:  "Complete crap year of run training; no running for month of July due to injury, longest training run was 5 miles all year.  Just happy to finish with a 14:15."

Ironman Mont Tremblant 2015:  "Another relatively crappy year of run training, although better than 2014.  Had hopes of going around 13 hours, but the day was incredibly hot and humid, and the bike course difficult. Still, best finish since coming back to Ironman in 13:57."

So let's see what Ironman Wisconsin 2016 will bring. The weather looks to be ideal, with forecast calling for sunny skies, high of 75 degrees, and wind 5-10 mph. George is now in Sloth Mode. He tries to do nothing and keep off his feet the day before a race. Here he is, surrounded by electronic entertainment and definitely channeling his inner sloth.

Since he's slothing it, if you have any questions about Ironman, training, or general lunacy, please post them in the comments, and he'll try to answer them! 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Random Observations on a Friday at IM Moo

1. George is doing this year's race with John and Rob, two triathletes from our hometown. It's motivational to have friends doing the race, too.

John, George, and Rob

All three simply must finish because the finisher medal is outstandingly cool this year. It looks like the cow logo on the race banner.

The only way this year's medal could be better would be if it looked more like this:

But even without the tongue, it's a cool medal.

2. Signing up for most Ironman races really only has two prerequisites. You need to be kinda crazy and register before the race fills.

To finish, well, that requires months of serious training, smart nutrition and hydration, luck enough to avoid injury, and a whole lot of determination. This year, Dell Finney wins the prize for most inspiring story I've heard so far, and he exemplifies that determination.


I saw Dell yesterday at the lake and noticed how random strangers were walking up to him to shake his hand. The beard and tats get him noticed. Turns out he's quite famous on the IM Moo Facebook page. He started and did not finish the last two IM Moo races, and he's back this year for a third attempt. I'm totally on Team Dell and will track him on race day. I really, really want to hear official Ironman announcer Mike Riley call out, "Dell Finney, you are an Ironman!"

3. George, John, and Rob attended the mandatory race meeting today and had an amusing few minutes while an Ironman spokesperson tried to convince the dirty-minded crowd that the new section of the bike course resembles an upside-down Florida. Decide for yourself what the northwest loop of the course looks like by taking a look at the map.

Yep. Saying "upside-down Florida" doesn't cover the options, now, does it?

4. On a much more serious note, this weekend marks the 15th anniversary of 9/11. George and I noticed a giant American flag being raised at the Wisconsin Capitol building this evening. It must have been a trial run for an official raising since the flag didn't go higher than in this photo, but wow. That's a big flag. I hope we get to see it raised fully and rippling in a gentle breeze later this weekend.

Old Glory. Glorious.

A Stroll down Memory Lane

The problem with blogging something that happens annually is coming up with fresh material, a new perspective on the same old thing. I've written lots about Ironman before and thought I'd share links to my favorite posts from years gone by for those of you who are new to Ironman lunacy or who simply want to take a stroll down Memory Lane.

Happy reading!

Just Tri-ing to Understand 2008

IM Moo in Review from 2009

When There Was Still Hope from 2010 (George DNF'd that one)

Tri-Maniacal Post from 2013

Now I'm off for fresh material from this year's IM Moo.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

IM Moo...Again

A week ago, an odd situation came up around this year's Ironman Wisconsin, and George said to me, "If you don't want to go, I understand."

"Oh, no. I'm going," I replied.

"Thank GOD! I can't do this race without you!" he exclaimed. 

He's right. Well, sort of. Technically, he could do it without me, but it would be much, much harder. For one thing, after he raced 140.6 miles, he'd have to retrieve his bike and all his heavy transition bags and hike them to the hotel all by himself. 

This chore is apparently so hard in the utter state of exhaustion at the end of a race that racers are seriously tempted to leave all the gear behind...including the $6,000 bicycle. 

"After all," the devastatingly exhausted racer tells himself or herself, "I'm never, ever doing this race again."

I've heard these words, spoken by my beloved husband, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

If you don't know an Ironman, you might not get the joke. You see, no matter how much most Ironman finishers hate getting kicked in the head on the 2.4-mile swim (which resembles nothing so much as salmon spawning), no matter how much they hate their bike at the end of 112 miles, no matter how solemnly they swear they'll never run another step for the rest of their lives at the end of the 26.2-mile run, they will do it again.

They will.

Because they are lunatics. 

At least, that's my conclusion.

Fortunately, they are the sort of lunatics you want to have around for entertainment value, not the terrifying sort that try to get you to join them in their masochistic shenanigans. After all, someone has to stand on the sidelines and cheer them on.

If you'd like to follow George and a few of his lunatic friends who are tackling Ironman Wisconsin (affectionately referred to as IM Moo), stick around Questioning for the weekend. There will be photos and videos and jokes and all sorts of amazing physical accomplishments by racers...and even by a certain blogger, who will heroically retrieve George's heavy bags and nasty, sticky, sweaty bicycle and schlep them to the hotel while he's trying not to pass out or vomit on the marathon course.

I do this because I love him and, more importantly, because abandoning a $6,000 bike in the Monona Terrace parking lot simply isn't an option. 

A note to email subscribers...if you wait for the posts to arrive in your mailbox, you'll miss some of the fun. On Sunday, I'll link to the live feed of the finish line and keep you posted during the day about George's progress. It'll all be old news Monday morning. Check in and refresh the page if you want to follow along. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What the World Needs Now


More of it.

This morning, I celebrated the commissioning of six new Stephen Ministers at our church. Our other leader, Zandra, and I had the privilege of training them, and they are each amazing caregivers, full of love and compassion. When I got home from church, I found out about the murder of 50 people in Orlando and the injury of many others.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." He was right.

I pray there are lots of caregivers (and hopefully some Stephen Ministers) in Orlando to provide hands-on care for so many families and friends who are grieving and for survivors who are traumatized by this act of domestic terrorism. As the aunt of a niece who is transgender, I don't understand this kind of hate. Not at all.

But I do know that responding in hate solves nothing, helps nothing. In fact, it makes the situation worse. Please do not add to the hate and fear in social media. Spread love. Spread compassion. Spread peace.

And support the helpers. There are always helpers.

Mr. Rogers:

Monday, May 30, 2016

Social Media Hate Storms

Just south of where we live, at the Cinncinati Zoo, a gorilla was shot dead when a child fell into its enclosure. The ensuing hate storm on social media scares me sick.

When did we become a nation of people without mercy or compassion? This situation is a tragedy all the way around. The zoo's enclosure wasn't fool-proof, or five-year-old proof. That will, no doubt, be fixed. But the hate and scorn and derision leveled at this boy's mother shocks me.

Who among us parents has never had a preschooler slip away from us? I lost Jack at the Cinncinati Museum one day. One second he was right beside me, and the next he was gone. The following 15 minutes of my life took at least 15 years off my life. He was safe. But it all escalated in an instant.

Who among us has perfect attention, perfect awareness, perfect control of our our children at all times, every minute of every day, in every situation?

Not. One. Of. Us.

So why the scorn? Why the hate? Why the desire to humiliate and punish and tear down a mother who was, like all of us, human? Because we've become a culture of blame and reactionism, and social media gives us the perfect outlet. Everything is somebody's fault, and we use social media to shame and condemn others, full of righteous certainty that we are better than that person.

"I would NEVER lose control of my child at a zoo. I would NEVER look at the animals instead of my own child when visiting a zoo. I would NEVER assume that zoo enclosures are child-proof."


Of course some things are criminal and blame-worthy. But this is determined by courts of law and due process, not Facebook page or post likes. Thank God and our country's Founding Fathers for that.

Long before social media gave everyone a format for expressing their hate, people passed judgment on others without mercy and without taking time to consider our universal human condition. In the early 1990s, a coworker's son drowned in a lake on the Fourth of July. People refused to contribute to the fund we collected for funeral expenses because they didn't want to help the parents in any way. Their negligence allowed their son to die, their reasoning went, so why should they give them any help?

These parents have lived every day since knowing their responsibility for their son's death, pondering "if only we had...." I cannot even imagine their pain and suffering and guilt. My heart broke for them.

Despite all our best efforts, accidents happen.

Let he or she who has not sinned cast the first stone. Instead of blame being our first reaction in social media, let's offer compassion, or at the very least silence. Let's humbly recognize that we could, at any time, become like that mother...guilty of being a human being.

Mercy. Grace. Compassion. Love. These four tools give us what we need to fight the hate storm in social media.

How will you use them?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Random Observations on Inattentiveness

Two weeks ago, my car was fatally rear-ended by a woman who wasn't paying attention.

Don't get me wrong. I'm eternally grateful neither Jack nor I was injured in the crash. I wish the woman driving the other car well and hope her injuries were superficial. (She was transported to the hospital but appeared to be mostly okay.)

But my car was rear-ended for the third time in 18 months, this time fatally.

I really loved that car, a red Mazda CX-9. It gave its life for me and Jack, performing honorably. I miss it.

The consequences of her inattentiveness have surprised me in the past two weeks, so here are a few random musings upon those consequences.

1. Ambulance-chasing lawyers are killing trees. The amount of junk mail I've received (including two identical mailings from a single lawyer which arrived on the same day) is preposterous.

2. After three rear-endings, a person is apt to become a bit paranoid about cars coming up from behind. It occurred to me that a giant sign on the back of my new car might make me feel better. "Please Don't Hit Me!"

3. Whatever we're paying police, paramedics, and firefighters isn't enough for the amazing work they do. On the day in question, the wind chill was near zero. To a person, every first responder was polite, caring, compassionate, and kind. The police officer who took us home even helped the tow-truck driver unload my groceries from the wrecked car. My heart overflows with gratitude for them.

4. I mentally shut down at the prospect of buying a new car. I'd rather have another root canal. Fortunately, my husband had my back on this one, performing a spectacular speed-shopping feat of bravery (engaging car salespeople takes courage). He found me a close replacement for my vehicle at a pretty great price. All I had to do was show up and sign papers. Thanks, honey!

5. When you want a red CX-9 right now, it's a sure bet the only color available within a two-hour radius of your home will be black.

6. On Tuesday, I drove the new car to a cafe before Bible study. As I left the building, mocha in hand, I saw a shiny new black car parked on the side of the road and thought, "What a pretty car!" I did not recognize it as mine. Emotional ownership will come, but slowly.

7. Going from two more years of car payments to five just plain sucks.

8. Having both a black car interior and a golden retriever forces you to let go of obsessive neatness, which will lose to dog fur every time. The saddest part of having dog fur in my new car: the dog's not even set a paw in the car yet. The fur floats in on the people. 

9. Going behind the gate of a giant, deserted, body-shop parking lot to retrieve the registration from your totalled vehicle on a Sunday afternoon makes you feel like a bad-ass.

10. To the guy who almost slid into my not even a week-old car at a traffic light on a snowy Friday morning...thank you for your quick maneuvering. Had you hit me, the police would have had to lead me off to the psych ward. I truly would not have been responsible for my actions.

10. Pay attention out there, folks. Our cars are fun and convenient and useful and sometimes even cool, but they are big and potentially dangerous. Be safe.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Unintended Consequences: Dog Hair

Years ago, when I started my minimalist wardrobe project, my plan included black pants, skirts, and jackets, which coordinate simply and perfectly with colorful shirts or sweaters. But the sad truth is this:

Source Unknown
My black fleece jacket, which I basically wear all winter even inside because our house is freezing, currently looks like this:

That's right. I had a cuddle with Daisy the Golden Retriever this evening, so the jacket is particularly hairy, but in truth, the picture pretty much captures the norm.

You try not cuddling a Golden who thinks she's a lap dog. You're not really given a choice. Besides, cuddling a Golden lowers your blood pressure and reduces stress.

It's science, people!

When I go to church on Sundays, people--mostly older ladies--pick fur off my clothes. It used to be embarrassing, but now, well, I've basically given up.

I choose to make a virtue of necessity and view the fur as a necessary accessory, but when the elbows wear a bit more on this jacket, I think I'll replace it with charcoal gray.

That might help hide the fur.

Or not.


Just keepin' it real.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Like the Fool I Will Always Be

Earlier this year, I had a dream in which I floated on a dark and infinite ocean. Impossibly huge waves lifted me and occasionally curled over my head, but I felt oddly at peace, calm, not worried about drowning at all, even when utterly submerged and tumbling in the water. As I drifted under the water, the thought drifted through my mind that sharks or other monsters might be in the water with me, ready to attack out of the darkness, just like the monster that lived under my bed when I was a child. But the thought of these leviathans caused no distress as I floated. I didn't fight or fear.

I floated and trusted.

Unlike most of my dreams, which disappear in the first fizzy minutes of consciousness each day, this one stuck with me, and the images of water, waves, and floating pop into my head almost daily, especially in the past two months.

I've body-surfed through 2015. The year's final months held a lot of grief and sadness and unwanted change, and also held great friendships, wonderful support, boundless love, and amazing grace unmerited. My response to all the negative things has largely been to meditate on staying afloat in an ocean storm.

"Don't fight the waves, Susan. Just ride them in a spirit of trust and gratitude for all the positive things."

Then, today, I read this quotation from Roald Dahl.

Superficially, Dahl's words and my dream have very little in common, unless you care to interpret merely floating as being lukewarm, which I do not. Floating generates far too much peace to be in any way bad. Instead, I think these two thoughts complement one another; they are, in a sense, different sides of the coin of life.

On the obverse of the coin, much of what happens in life is outside our control. Friends unfriend us, crises crop up, loved ones die. We can't stop these things from happening, as much as we might want to, and so floating through them, processing them, accepting them, trusting that things all work out in the end...this makes sense.

On the reverse of the coin, we have control over some things, like how we choose to use our gifts, how we choose to treat others, how we respond to the blessings that pour onto our lives like honey from the hive. We can choose to open ourselves enthusiastically to the good in life and throw our energy into multiplying that good stuff, spreading it around in a world starved for peace, love, and grace. This also makes sense.

If you're wrestling with resolutions this year, perhaps my dream or Roald Dahl's words or both together might help.

Do you need peace? Are you fighting the waves, tilting at windmills, running on a treadmill, exhausting yourself? How might you find peace this year and learn to float, trusting that life is what it is? Pursue peace.

Have you lost enthusiasm, become cynical or jaded or simply lost? How are you throwing energy into negative things, which will drain you, instead of throwing energy into positive things, which will fill you up? Be an enthusiast.

Instead of resolving to lose weight or eat more vegetables, I resolve to float in faith and enthuse with energy. I suspect that being an enthusiast leads to peace, and that in finding peace I will also have lots of energy to hug and love my passions. I also suspect that at times I will fail spectacularly at both resolutions, but even baby steps forward in both will be wonderful.

Care to join me?