The Road to Farley

The Road to Farley

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

It's 10:29 p.m. on New Year's Eve, and I've already been in bed for 30 minutes. Party on! That's me.

Part of the problem is that New Year's Eve 2010 was the coup de gras of all New Year's Eves (I'm not sure if I have properly pluralized that, but whatever...). Last year at this time, I was partying it up at the Grand Harbor in Dubuque at my niece's wedding. What a night! Never mind that it took me nearly two days to fully recover.

Me and nephew Ryan -- No idea what we were singing!
When the shots started flowing, it was all down hill.
I have a feeling NYE 2010 will never be topped. Although tonight was not as grand, a low-key spaghetti dinner with the breakfast crew was just as nice. And, I'm pretty sure it won't take me two days to recover.

Bailey and I are sitting in bed. I flipped over to ABC to see what was happening in Times Square. I'm sorry, I'm just going to say it....Dick Clark, for the love of God, it is time to retire. I couldn't watch it...

After I sign off here, I think I watch a couple of episodes of Californication. Nothing scary there.

Good bye 2011 and hello 2012! Be good to us, OK?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Through the years, every family develops traditions that are carried on from one generation to the next. Well, sometimes they are carried on. For one reason or another, traditions sometimes fade away. On this Christmas Eve morning, I wanted to take a few minutes to reminisce on traditions past and present.

It all started when mom and I made our yearly attempt to get a cute picture of the dogs in front of the Christmas tree. It's a circus. We go through the same thing every year. The dogs hate it, we get covered in dog hair, and eventually throw in the towel. One year, we had all the dogs neatly lined up in front of the tree -- perfect....except they were all facing the tree instead of looking at the camera. It was a nice butt shot. Then, we tried individual photos instead of a group shot. Those attempts were hit or miss, too. Like this one of Annie, taken a few years back. She was sooo tired.

Then, this year, here is Lucy...with Pearl trying to corral her. Not happenin'.

Jack is disinterested and uncooperative and looks like your typical disheveled old man.

My girl is picture perfect, of course.

Here are some of my favorite Christmas Eve memories, in random order.
  • Until I was in high school, Christmas Eve was always reserved for going to Grandma Scherrman's house. The day seemed to d-r-a-g on forever. I couldn't wait to get to Grandma's house, with her cute little 3 foot tree she had decorated on a table-top in her living room. Presents were stacked up around the legs of the table. We would have a huge dinner, after which the adults cruelly made the kids wait until *after * the dishes were done before we could open presents. As you can imagine, most of us were pretty hyped up. One Christmas, the boys were all running around in Grandma's unfinished basement, and my cousin Tom smashed his head into one of the support columns in the basement. I think that necessitated a trip to the emergency room for some stitches. Grandma Scherrman was always the center of attention. She held court with her stories. And, if she had just enough wine, she would start reciting. I can't actually recall what she recited -- poems, songs, dirty jokes? I just remember all the adults laughing, so it must have been funny knowing that Grandma was a little tipsy. My Grandma's spinster friend Meta was always there, too. She was the nemesis of us kids -- picture crabby old lady. Yep, that's her.
  • Also, growing up, I would awake on Christmas morning to the aroma of freshly baking cinnamon rolls. My mom would be up at the crack of dawn with her trusty circa 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook on the counter making fresh bread and cinnamon rolls. Nothing smells better. She got out of the pattern for a few years. I guess kids, college, and work got in the way and she said "screw that...we can buy rolls at the grocery store." But, after some cajoling, she has resurrected the tradition...using the same food-splattered and worn-paged Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1950s. As I type this, the dough is rising in the kitchen. OK, so maybe I didn't get the pleasure of awaking to the smell of baking bread, but I will give her a pass. I wouldn't want to be up at 4 am making dough either. The fresh-out-of-the-oven rolls will be my lunch today. Mom says they should be ready by 1 pm.
  • I think the only Christmas that I wasn't in Farley was in 1997. I had just moved to Indiana and did not have vacation time built up. I had to work until about noon on Christmas Eve. The plan was for everyone to meet in Janesville, WI for Christmas at my brother's house. I was picking up my sister in Waukegan, IL, and we were driving together. I said I would get to her place about 2 pm, and we would head out. When I left Gary, IN at noon, it had started to snow. By the time I was on the Dan Ryan, it was a full-blown blizzard. I didn't get to my sister's until nearly 4 pm because of the traffic. And, get this -- SHE WASN'T READY! WTF? I am over two hours late, how can you not be ready. So, by the time we actually got back on the road (after a short tiff because she suggested we not go -- and I said I was *not* spending Christmas Eve in her undecorated apartment with no food and her cat...) it was after 5 pm. Now, I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, I was starving. We stopped at a gas station/McDonald's along the way. They had just closed, but I could still see hamburgers lined up under the heat lamps. I pleaded through the closed gate for the guy to let me buy some. I said I would pay double. He refused. I blurted out "Well, Merry Christmas to you too!" There was no one on the road to Janesville, because it was seriously still a blizzard. We saw cars in the ditch everywhere. We tried singing Christmas carols to pass the time and quickly realized we didn't know all the lyrics for shit. We'd get halfway through the song and then kind of mumble the rest. Needless to say, Janesville never looked so good and a lot of beers were consumed on arrival.
  • My Grandma McBride always insisted on bringing something to Christmas dinner. Every year it was the same thing. An 8x8 glass pan with red jello. That's it. Oh, maybe if she was really fancy, she would add pineapple chunks or bananas. Let's just say cooking was not Grandma McBride's forte. Sometimes, now, to be funny, Mom will make a square pan of jello as a joke. We get it, some of the grand kids don't.
  • Mom always made a strawberry dessert for Christmas. It had a graham cracker crumb crust, frozen strawberries, and a whipped concoction of eggs, sugar, and butter. It's the only time of year she makes it. We all look forward to it. Except this one year, after she went on a Tupperware buying frenzy and put all the "dry goods" in Tupperware containers instead of the original packaging, there was an epic fail when she inadvertently used Shake and Bake crumbs instead of graham cracker crumbs. My uncle Father Jim took the first bite (because, of course, you had to serve the priest first), and all of us busted out laughing when he practically spit it out and threw his fork down.
  • Our new tradition, now that all the "next generation" kids are of legal age, is to just have a little par-tee at the house. We had a rousing competition of Wii Let's Dance in 2010. This year, we are seeing who can wear the ugliest Christmas sweater. Prizes will be awarded.  
Most's being together as a family, celebrating the season, and taking a few days to just have fun together.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice

Whenever it is the winter solstice, I am reminded of the Astronomy class I took in college. After struggling through a semester of biology and barely eeking out a "C", I looked for alternatives to fulfill the rest of my science requirement. Thank God my advisor suggested Astronomy. First of all, the professor Ulrich Hermann, was this eccentric German who spoke with a thick accent. When we had to go into the planetarium as part of our lab work, he always had Bolero blaring. Then, there were the nights we had to go out for field labs. Where our class of about 300 students met at a remote park outside at 10 o'clock at night. We would all lie down on the grass while he used a high-powered flashlight to point out the planets and constellations. It was during this class that I finally understood the whole winter solstice and vernal equinox thing. Secondly, the class was actually interesting. Way more interesting than stupid biology. And, to this day, I can still identify Jupiter (the brightest object in the northern hemisphere), Cassiopeia (the mother of Andromeda who is sitting in a rocking chair), along with Ursa Major and Minor (big and little dippers).

What is always exciting about the winter solstice is that it is the shortest day of the year...shortest in terms of daylight. For the record, today there is 9 hours and 9 minutes of daylight. Praise Jesus...there is at least some small satisfaction knowing that from here on out we'll gain a few seconds of daylight each day. Not to mention that we've basically gotten through November and December unscathed in the weather department. Just two more months of true winter to go.

Four days to Christmas, and I'm still not quite ready. I managed to get my Christmas cards finally all sent out on Tuesday. I have two more presents to buy, and all my presents need to be wrapped. I've gotten a really late start this year. The month of November was a total blur. Beginning the first full week of November, my travel schedule looked like this:

  • Arlington, Virginia
  • East Chicago, Indiana
  • Lawrence, Kansas
  • Burlington, Vermont
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Arlington, Virginia
Bailey had an extended stay at the farm, but that's another story. When I finally had a full week in the office, I was buried working on a huge project. I've got a short reprieve until mid-January, then it will probably all start over again.

What I haven't been lacking during this time is food. In fact, all this traveling and stress has exacerbated my emotional eating. At the rate I'm going, I'll probably be like 300 pounds by February 1.

So, I've resigned to owning my lack of restraint and lack of exercise to just enjoy the holidays and my birthday. January 9, 2012 is my new red letter day.

When I committed to being a blogger for 2011, my "hook" was to blog about what it was like leading up to 50. I am feeling fat and lazy. I guess that's what I've really been leading up to all year. All my so-called training for the 5K went right out the window.

A friend asked if I was going to continue blogging or was it the end when I hit 50. Tonight on the news, there was a story about baby-boomers needing joint replacements earlier and earlier. The doctor interviewed said the majority of his patients are between 45 and 55. What the ??? I was pleased to hear that power walking is favored over jogging to save your knees. Whew -- no more guilt for giving up the running regime.

That said, my 2012 blogging hook will be my campaign to save the joints! But, ummmm, don't look for any serious efforts to begin until January 9th. I've got to get through Christmas, New Years, my actual birthday, and my birthday soiree!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wanderlust versus Homebody

First of all, I woke up this morning and it was the last day of November. Where does time go? I really need things to slow down! It seems like yesterday that I wrote my last post about it being November 1.

I just returned from a 10-day trip to Burlington (Vermont - not Iowa) and Boston. In some ways, it seemed I was gone a really long time. But, actually, I was only away from work for six days. And, that isn't even 100% true, because I checked my e-mail and kept up with critical work items every day.

When I travel--which, to me, doesn't happen nearly enough--I find myself being absorbed into my new surroundings. I sit, observe, and wonder what it would be like to live and work wherever it is I am visiting. What would I be like? Would I talk differently? Would I eat different foods? Would I enjoy other activities? Who would be my friends? What would be my favorite restaurant? How would I get to work -- drive or public transportation? What house would I live in? In my private anthropological excursion, money is no object, and I envision myself living in some fantastic places.

I visited Boston for the first time on this trip. I loved it! If I lived in Boston, I would live in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. Like here:

Acorn Street - Beacon Hill
Or here:

I would walk everywhere and would frequent the fabulous restaurants in the North End and the numerous Irish Pubs.

Wanderlust: A strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.

The other thing that happens when I travel is that it heightens my desire to travel more. Oh, if only there was unlimited travel funds and unlimited vacation time from work available!

Getting ready to hike the Freedom Trail

Homebody: A person who enjoys the warmth and simple pleasures of being at home.

Now, as I sit in my own bed, surrounded by my own things (missing only my baby Bailey, who is still at the farm), I think that there is a side of me who loves to be at home.

On the heels of Thanksgiving, of the many blessings for which I am forever grateful, I am thankful for my health and my steady employment with a company that provides me with paid vacation.

Wanderlust or Homebody -- I'll take both, thank you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I woke up and it was November...

Man, have you noticed that the older you get the faster time passes? Why is that? I remember being a kid and thinking that time moved ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. Christmas...took forever to arrive. The end of the school year....agony. Now, it almost seems like a month zooms by while you are sleeping. Well, maybe that's just at my house because I'm keenly aware that I'm now 63 days from the big 5-0. And, no, I'm not referring to Hawaii 5-0.

Fittingly, when I went to the ski swap on Sunday, it was rainy and freezing. Oh, sure, it was probably still about 50 degrees but the constant rain and the cold wind made it just miserable to be poking around under a big tent looking for skis and boots. Now, today, on the first day of November, it was sunny and 74 degrees when I walked Bailey after work. What a beautiful day. I was reminded that it was time for my monthly update on the passage of the seasons. As a reminder, this was October:

Willow Park - October 1
And this was today:

Willow Creek Park - November 1
The beautiful golden leaves are gone, and the grass is going dormant. This picture was taken at about 5:00 p.m. What is another sign of winter encroaching is that by this time next week, it will nearly be dark at 5:00 p.m. after we "fall back" this coming weekend. We're on that slow decline to the shortest day of the year.

A friend posted something on Facebook today about All Saint's Day. I was immediately transported back to sixth grade at Farley-Bankston Catholic Grade School. We didn't wear costumes to school on Halloween. Oh no....we got to dress up as our patron saint on November 1 for All Saint's Day. I hated sixth grade. My school had this brilliant idea to split up the sixth grade class and send half of us "upstairs" to be mingled in with the seventh and eighth graders. The other half stayed "downstairs" and were mingled in with the fourth and fifth graders. I'm not sure how you were chosen for one or the other group, but I suppose they thought those of use sent upstairs were more mature or smarter or something. Well, after a few months, really all that happened is that my confidence and self-esteem were shot to hell. I'm not sure I learned much of anything that year. There was a particularly ornery group of eighth grade boys who delighted in disrupting class each day. Our poor English teacher, in her first year of teaching, was so traumatized that I'm not sure she ever taught again.

But I digress -- All Saint's Day. I was all excited to dress up as Saint Carol because I was the only Carol in sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. But, then, Sister Mary Anne told me that Carol was the feminine of Charles, so I'd have to dress up as a man. NO WAY! So, then I planned to dress up as St. Ann, my middle name, but one of the seventh grade girls who was kind of intimidating was dressing up as her. Even back then, I went out of my way to avoid conflict. I went with Marie (derivation of Mary), which is my confirmation name and my Grandma's name. Yup, very original, I dressed up as the Virgin Mary. I cut a hole in an old white sheet and put that over my head then wrapped an old blanket that I dyed blue around my shoulders. I did all this without my mother's assistance. Who knows where I got the sheet, the blanket, and not to mention the blue dye! My resourcefulness was outed when I was selected to be in a photo for the local newspaper. Then, my mom was like "why didn't you ask me for help? That didn't look very good?" Well, I'm sure Jesus didn't care what Mary looked like, now, did he?

There was a great episode of This American Life on NPR last Saturday. The whole hour was devoted to the awful experiences of middle school. It was funny and sad and real all at the same time. I highly recommend it. You can find it here:

The rest of this month is going to be crazy. I have to go to Arlington, Virginia next week for work; Lawrence, Kansas the week after that; then off to Vermont for 10 days. I hope my baby doesn't forget about me while she's on her extended stay at the farm.

Sweet Bailey at Willow Creek Park

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bring It On Old Man Winter!

A couple of things happened in the past few days that got me thinking about snow. Don't get me wrong, I have loved loved loved the glorious fall weather we have had for the past month. But, we all know it is there, lurking in the darkness, and I--for one--am ready.

First, I was tasked with purchasing items for a "Trim the Tree" gift basket for my work team to donate to our United Way silent auction. Off I went to Hobby Lobby with the loot contributed by my coworkers. Score! All the Christmas items were 40% off, so $125 went a long way in putting together a pretty huge basket of items to deck your tree. As I wandered up and down the aisles checking out all the new Christmas merchandise, still neatly stacked on the shelves and in pristine condition, it made me excited to pull out my own holiday decorations and get the house looking all cozy for the holidays. Yes, yes, I know we still have two major holidays to get through before Christmas is here. But, I can be excited nonetheless.

Then, beginning on Friday, the news was abuzz with the Nor' easter that was going to hit the east coast with a pre-Halloween snow storm. The Weather Channel reported:
The storm smashed record snowfall totals for October and worsened as it moved north. Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit. Snowfall totals topped 27 inches in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor had gotten 26 inches by early Sunday.
OK, I'm glad we haven't gotten 27" of snow just yet, but still, the first few snowfalls are always exciting, right?

Being all in the holiday and winter spirit, I tagged along with my niece and her husband, my little nephew, and my sister-in-law to a ski swap at Tyrol Basin in Wisconsin. We were really in search of new boots and skis for my little nephew, who seemingly has grown about a foot in less than a year. (Well, that might be a stretch, but he's clearly bigger than most of the other 4 year olds at preschool.)

They didn't have the right size boots for Carter, but he did come away with a nice helmet complete with iPod compatibility so you don't need to wear earbuds.

Carter and his new ski helmet.
I succumbed to all the fancy new skis, too. New boots and poles:

Big improvement from my circa 1978 boots!
My new skis are still at the ski shop getting the bindings adjusted. As if being asked my height and weight wasn't humiliating enough (usually only my doctor is privy to this classified information), the "child" who was helping me asked if I was over 50. (I guess I should be thankful that it wasn't seemingly evident that I am on the cusp of 50.) I asked, "Why? Is there an old person setting on the bindings?" He looks at me with a bit of sympathy and replies, "Well, actually, there is. We are required to put the setting at a quicker release for anyone over 50, so that if you fall you won't blow out your knee or hip as easily." Oh, well, I say, I want that...sign me up. Sheesh...who knew getting old was so complicated. 

I was pretty loyal to Rossignols back in the day, but the skis are K2. The price was right, so I couldn't pass up a good deal. And, having my niece present as my ski consultant was priceless.

Here's hoping the new winter skis are as successful as the new water ski was this year.

Bottom line: I guess the new washer gets pushed to the back burner for a couple of more months. I know where my priorities lie -- new skis, trip to Vermont, Christmas shopping, 50th birthday party. Woot!! Who needs a fancy new washer??

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

If You Break Down on Your Harley, It's Good to be in Farley...

My cousin Tim had a post on Facebook today about a guy who was out riding his Harley with some buddies a while back, and one of the guys' bikes broke down about 5 miles north of Farley. Some Farleyian stopped and put the bike in the back of his pickup and took him into town. Some other Farleyian offered up some tools, and soon, the guys were back on the road.

One of the guys was so impressed with the friendly people of Farley he wrote a little tune. Click here to find the song -- scroll down a bit until you see the title "If You Break Down on Your Harley, It's Good to be in Farley." It's actually the 7th song. A catchy little tune.

So, yeah, it's good to be in Farley, and it's good to be from Farley.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hold on...just one more comment about my "running" experience

A week ago, I said I had just one more thing to say about the 5K I participated in last Sunday. OK, I lied. I have one final thing to say about that. Today, on NPR, I heard a story about a woman who gave birth just a few hours after completing the Chicago Marathon? WTF? You can read the full story in the Chicago tribune by clicking here.

All I'm saying is that it was bad enough that an 85 year old woman ran a 5K in about half the time it took me to walk it last week. Now, evidently, women who are 39 weeks pregnant are running marathons like it's no big deal. She completed the race in a little over 6 hours. At the pace I walked last week, it would have taken me, oh, about EIGHT HOURS to complete it.

Now, I feel even more like a slug!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Autumn Leaves

It is probably fitting, in some bittersweet way, that famed pianist Roger Williams died yesterday at his Encino, California home. Williams, who played for nine presidents starting with Harry Truman, was likely best known for his 1958 hit "Autumn Leaves." The song was the only instrumental to ever reach No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts. 

This past week reminds me why autumn is my most favorite time of year. We were blessed with glorious weather for the past 8-9 days...the brilliant blue sky, illuminated by a blazing sun, served as the perfect canvas for the trees that erupted into gorgeous gold and orange and red hues all week. The warm days gave way to cool nights, with a sky brightened by a waxing gibbous moon and every star and planet twinkled in the sky like lights on a Christmas tree. If only this weather could continue until March. I think Mother Nature gives us this little weather nirvana as a consolation for the snow and cold that will be upon us shortly.

As you might recall, one of my 2011 blogging goals was to document the seasons in Willow Creek Park. Recall that this was July:

Willow Creek Park - July 2011
And, here is Willow Creek Park earlier this week:

Same spot -- just a little zoomed in
If you were ever planning to film a movie in Iowa with fall scenery, this was the week to do it. As Bailey and I walked the neighborhood, I almost felt like I was on a movie set because it just looked almost too picture perfect. You be the judge.

Corner of Earl Road and Westside Drive

The front of Little Creek Condos

Willow Creek Park near playground
There is a great children's book for this time of year: "Leaf Man" by Lois Ehlert. It goes, in part, like this:
Fall has come, the wind is gusting, and Leaf Man is on the move. Is he drifting east, over the marsh and ducks and geese? Or is he heading west, above the orchards, prairie meadows, and spotted cows? No one's quite sure, but this much is certain: A Leaf Man's got to go where the wind blows.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Last Word on the 5K

The official results are in: 

Especially For You - 5K "Walk" Results
 Even though I signed up for the run, I got lumped in to the results for the walk. I think I must have handed my number to the wrong guy. In any case, it doesn't matter. What this says is that I was 730th overall from all the female walkers (5,130 women) and 91st (out of 514) in my age category (45-49). As I noted yesterday, the time is skewed by 4+ minutes because that's how long it took us to get to the official starting line.

The fastest walker completed the course in 31:12. Should I feel bad that the top two finishers in the 80+ age group had a faster time than me? Hmmmm, I think those broads cheated. We saw quite a number of people cutting across the course. Alledgedly, some 85 year old woman claims to have run the course in 29:59. I think she cheated, too. I have to keep telling myself that, or I'll get really depressed that a grandma can run faster than me. Sheesh...I'm pathetic.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


No, that is not a prisoner number. It was my number in today's Especially for You 5K run/walk in Cedar Rapids. Nearly 16,000 participants signed up for the event...way more than I had imagined. Needless to say, this event was a bit bigger than my initial foray into the race world -- the Farley Kick-off to Summer 2 mile Run/Walk back in June. There were, maybe, about 60-70 participants in that event.

One snafu right off the bat is that they could not find Darcy's registration. Thank God for technology, she had her confirmation on her phone. But, it still seemed a big deal to get her a number and t-shirt. The project manager in the three of us started discussing their implementation planning and contingency planning. Did they adequately assess all of their risks? We think they have some lessons learned. There were still about 50 people in the late registration line with under 15 minutes before race time.

After my months of mentally and physically "preparing" for this day, I have to admit it was almost a bit of a disappointment. (I say preparing with a grain of salt. Admittedly, I was never 100% committed to doing what I really needed to do to run the race.) 16,000 is a lot of humanity, and when they are all lined up along a narrow city street there is not a lot of room to really bust out of the starting line. Granted, my two co-workers Darcy and Tricia and I might not have read all of the instructions. For example, I just realized about 10 minutes ago that the green dot on my race number indicated I was in the "runner" group. All the runners were supposed to line up first at the starting line. We more or less used the visual approach and wandered through the throngs of people until we found people who appeared to look more like runners than walkers. Well, we were far back in the pack away from the runners.

It took a good 4 minutes for us to even make our way to the official starting line. I know this because I started my stopwatch when we got to the starting line and when we finally crossed the finish line there was a 4 minute differential. We need microchips!!

We made a somewhat lame effort to try and run past the walking group by running in and out of the parked cars and up on to the sidewalk and back to the street. We really just found it all a bit annoying. So, we gave up and just walked the rest of the way, which still took some effort to circumnavigate the thousands of kids, seniors, and parents pushing strollers.

At about the halfway mark, there was a whole group of local high school cheerleaders holding up signs and encouraging us to keep going. We pondered whether we would want our high school daughters holding up such signage:
  • Save Second Base!
  • Save the TaTas!
  • Bosom Buddies
  • Save the Boobies!
It was a beautiful fall morning for the race. I admit to cursing the alarm clock when it went off at 6 a.m.

According to my unofficial time, we crossed the finish line at 49 minutes. The race clock showed 53 minutes.

So, my first 5K was a walk and not the run I had anticipated. It's probably for the best...I know I wouldn't have actually run the course in much faster time. I may look for another 5K in the future, but will definitely check out the small towns...16,000 is too much for me. But, it is a great cause, and I'm happy I was able to contribute in even a small way.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

5 days to 5K

Just five more days to the 5K. Over the weekend, my friend "suggested" that perhaps I wasn't pushing myself hard enough when I was training. Oh really? What a surprise! I'm sure it is too little too late, but tonight I did make a concerted effort to push myself more than normal. I completed the 5K in 46 minutes. I realize this is still slow slow slow, but considering that six months ago I wasn't even attempting to run that distance, I feel it is at least sort of kind of respectable.


The first song on my treadmill playlist...the Boss:

"...cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Couch to 5K to .... just stay on the couch

I'm seeing a pattern in my life, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm kind of a quitter. It started way back in 3rd grade when I quit Brownies, followed in 6th grade when I quit piano lessons. Then, after junior high, I gave up volleyball and track, and after freshman year, I quit basketball. Finally, after junior year, I quit band. I quit three different colleges before I finally got my bachelor's degree.

I don't know what I was thinking when, earlier this year, some co-workers convinced me to run a 5K with them. They assured me that all I had to do was follow the Couch to 5K program and it would be a breeze. In just 8 short weeks I would be running a 5K like a pro. I bought into the hype...and assumed it would be totally easy since, at the time, I had almost 20 weeks until the 5K.

Hold up, dawg...if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! First off, how many DD track stars do you see? None...I rest my case. In fact, I just googled "female Olympic runners with big boobs" and the first hit was "Why do women athletes tend to be flat-chested?" Followed by a story in the Orange County Register that begins, "For some women, the path to athletic excellence seems to be blocked by overly large breasts, ..." There you have it, I am doomed.

Then, there's that whole BMI business. Yes, I'm obese according to the charts. About a week ago, Sherri Shepherd tweeted, "Just figured out my BMI (body mass index) ... and it turns out I'M OBESE! WHAT!!!!" I feel your pain, Sherri. Something about that chart just ain't quite right. 

Then I googled "fat people running 5K," and you'd be surprised at how many entries there are about that. 

I tried to be a runner once in college. I took off with my roomie Cathy out of Burge Hall. I made it down the hill on Dubuque Street, before I had to stop...after that it is kind of a blur...I think I managed to cross the Park Road bridge and head back up the bike trail, crossing the Hancher Foot Bridge before ending up on the back side of Burge, where I promptly fell out on the ground and yelled for my other roommate to throw me down a beer and a cigarette.

Where does that leave me now? Well, the race is just 10 days away on Sunday, October 2. Race information can be found here. The mission of the race is to raise funds for individuals unable to afford breast cancer screenings and other support services and to educate individuals on the importance of early detection. ALL PROCEEDS from the race go to the Especially for You Fund and are used locally to provide breast cancer screening and other support services for individuals in need. My family was touched by breast cancer. My sister-in-law succumbed to this horrible disease at age 38, leaving my two nephews--ages 6 and 9 at the time--without a mom.

I should be able to endure a little pain and discomfort in honor of all the women, and men, who have fought breast cancer. (Shout out to my friend Donna in Texas who is also a survivor.)

The Couch to 5K program was going along pretty well for me until I hit a plateau at Week 5, when I was supposed to go from walking/running intervals of 5/8/5/8/5 to just 5/20! What the heck...running 20 minutes without stopping? I've been stuck here for weeks. Let's face it people, it takes a lot of energy to propel a mass like this through the atmosphere.

I mapped out a 5K route by my house. I "ran" it for the first time tonight. OK, mostly I ended up walking because it was hot and the concrete almost instantly gave me shin splints. Oh, how I long to just quit and say, "they already have my money...I don't need to show up for the race." But, alas, I will persevere. I probably should have signed up for the 5K WALK, which is more my speed.

Stay tuned. I'll post an update after the race!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life in an Instant

I've been thinking a lot about the fragility of life the past few days. How you can wake up one day thinking it is a normal day and by day's end your world has been turned upside down.

An instant -- an infinitesimal space of time; especially a point in time separating two states.

A former co-worker, just 44 years old and the father of three young boys, dies of a heart attack at work during a team building activity. It was his boys' first day of school. A young woman, set to begin her senior year in high school, dies when she loses control of her scooter. Some say she was momentarily distracted by a friend who honked and waved at her. Her mother, suffering from pancreatic cancer, dies just ten days later. A young man and father of a baby girl is shot to death in circumstances that are not yet clear.

In each case, one moment these individuals were full of life and hopes and dreams for the future. In an instant, their lives ended leaving spouses, parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and friends mourning their unexpected loss and questioning their own faith, future, mortality, and why a loving God lets things like this happen.

Admittedly, I have many doubts about faith, and "God's Plan," and the idea that those we have lost are in a "better place." I think of loved ones I have lost and quite honestly think the best place for them would be here, among the living, with their family and friends who need them. My Catholic upbringing leads me to believe that we will all be reunited some day when we all raise up and that if we have led a "good life," we will be rewarded in heaven. I try to believe this, but really, how do we know that we just aren't dead? That's it...the show is over.

Some say that God doesn't give us burdens more than we can handle. Well, I've honestly seen a lot of people I know and love brought to their knees by the unexpected and untimely death of a loved one. I don't think we can always handle the challenges we face. Sometimes, it is just too much.

To me, death brings a void that can never be erased. Time may lessen the raw pain of the loss, but the loss is still there. Memories and moments of life that will never be made.

Death, except for those who have lived a full life, will remain a mystery to me. I found this poem by Maya Angelou. It sums it up beautifully.

When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I  find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake. I answer the heroic question 'Death, where is thy sting? ' with ' it is here in my heart and mind and memories.'

Rest in peace Drake Morris, Jr. You will be missed.
Life Goes On...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Suppose God is Black

On my way home from work tonight, there was a story on NPR about a speech Robert F. Kennedy made in South Africa in 1966. A new documentary, RFK in the Land of Apartheid: Ripple of Hope, is set to air on PBS later this month.  

Whenever I hear speeches made by the late Senator Kennedy, I marvel not only at his engaging speaking abilities, but am inspired by the thought provoking and forward thinking ideas he espoused during the turbulent times of the 1960s. Kennedy opened his speech at the University of Cape Town with these words:
I came here because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-17th century, then taken over by the British and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which once imported slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America.
Later, in the speech to anti-apartheid students, he stated:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
You can read the entire story at:

The story also references an editorial that Senator Kennedy wrote for Look magazine that was published on August 23, 1966. That article was entitled, "Suppose God is Black?" Senator Kennedy poses this question to South Africans as he engaged in dialogue with them about why blacks should be given equal rights. Forty-five years later, this question is still valid.

During the same drive home tonight, on the eve of the straw poll in Ames, there was a news story about the impending entrance to the presidential race of Texas governor Rick Perry. I don't know a lot about Governor Perry, but I'm immediately turned off -- and downright frightened by -- a politician who makes claims like this:
"I think in America that from time to time we have to go through some difficult times, and I think we're going through those difficult economic times for a purpose," he said. "To bring us back to those biblical principles: Not spending all of our money. Not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks because at the end of the day, it's slavery."
I feel very conflicted by politicians who claim they want less government yet want to insert their religious, often conservative Christian values, into how our country is governed.

Our country is facing difficulties never before experienced. I don't proclaim to know what the answers to resolve these issues are. What I do know is that if I am faced with excessive debt and am struggling to meet my obligations, I have two ways to alleviate the situation: (1) reduce my spending and (2) increase my income. I don't see these as mutually exclusive. Any credit counselor will advise someone with excessive debt to seek additional income by obtaining a second job. I do not understand why raising taxes is an option that is completely off the table as a way to address our country's debt problem. I'm willing to give up a little to help the country out. There are many inequities in our tax code that could be rectified to increase income. And, you can't tell me that the likes of Oprah, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Mark Zuckerberg can't afford to pay a little more. 

It's only August 2011, a full 15 months before the next presidential election, and I am already sick of all the politicking that is going on. I'm so disillusioned that I may not vote at all. Or, I may vote only for candidates who are not incumbents.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Still Hear the Sounds of Summer Fun...

I took the parents on a little Saturday drive today. Neither of them had been up to Lake Delhi in years. I'm talking like 35 years, maybe, since we stopped boating in Delhi and started boating on the Mississippi.

My Grandpa and Grandma Scherrman had a cottage on Lake Delhi, or Hartwick Lake as it was once called, since the early 1930s. We have lots of old photos of my grandparents, my dad, and my two aunts up at the cottage swimming and boating. It was a family tradition. Every Sunday in the summer, rain or shine, we would go to the cottage. For a number of years, we would also spend a week there. That was our version of a family vacation and the closest we ever got to camping. The cottage was pretty bare bones. It had running water (just cold -- no hot) and an indoor flushable toilet and electricity. But, that was about as far as the luxuries went. It had an old cast iron pot belly stove that you could fire up if we got a sudden cold spell in the summer and the temps dipped down to 50 degrees at night. Oddly, we have hardly any pictures of our summer days at the cottage. I suppose my mom was busy enough trying to corral five kids and a dog most of the time to try and be all Ansel Adams or Annie Liebovitz.

Going to the cottage seemed like the quintessential childhood summer.
  • Swimming for hours and playing on old tractor inner tubes for flotation devices. Of course, swimming was allowed only after the requisite hour had passed since we ate!
  • Eating hot dogs cooked on the grill.
  • Attempting to fish (the boys...not me). Jerry, mostly, he got particularly frazzled one summer with a bullhead that kept showing up on his hook time and time again.
  • Sleeping 7 people in one bedroom.
  • Going a week with no shower! Well, we did spend most of the time in the "clean" lake water.
  • Lighting sparklers on the dock.
  • Running around with my cousins, who also spent Sundays at the cottage.
  • Hearing the Cubs game playing on the black and white TV that barely got reception. Grandma Scherrman was a die-hard Cubs fan.
  • Ignoring my Grandma's friend Meta (an old spinster) who constantly yelled "Don't slam the door!" The cottage had one of those old wooden screen doors on it with a loose spring. Of course, we would push it open and bolt out...letting it slam against the wooden door frame at least 50 times per day.
  • Packing up our life jackets, inner tubes, and toys in the "brooder house." Yes, my Grandpa, the farmer, repurposed an old chicken coop to be our storage shed. (Maybe that's where I get my MacGyver skills.)
It was a good time. But as we got older, and the lake got busier with more and more boat traffic, my dad decided we would move our boating adventures to the Mississippi. I can't remember exactly when we last spent the summer at Delhi, but I think it was the year after Tim graduated from high school, which was 1976. 

Fast forward to 2009. Thanks to Facebook, I started conversing with my cousin Mary Jo. Her family had continued to go to the cottage every summer. She and her husband bought the cottage next door to my Grandma's, and her daughter Rachel and her husband bought the cottage that was originally my Grandma's. Jerry and I went to visit Mary Jo at the cottage in September of 2009. They had already taken the boat out for the winter so we weren't able to take a cruise on the lake that day. We promised to come back in 2010. 

The "cottage" - it looks so small
from what I remembered 

The chair Grandma listened to the Cubs
in - now recovered and looking (almost) like new.
The view from the cottage - it's one of the
best spots on the lake.
Mary Jo - Jerry - Me
On July 24, 2010, after nearly 10 inches of rain fell in Delaware County, the Lake Delhi dam failed. The lake that was the home of so many summer memories for so many families disappeared. A week after the dam failed, this was the view from the cottage.

After the levee broke - July 2010
I didn't have my camera with me today, but there is even less water flowing through the Maquoketa River than in the picture above. And, where you see sand, you now see weeds that are over your head. It's a long road ahead to restore this area to its former glory.

There is much debate about whether the dam should be rebuilt at all. Of course, I am biased because I know what the lake has meant to my family. Although a private association had control of the dam, the lake was open to the public and had several public areas. The now missing dam has closed a county road because a 30 foot gorge now stands where a road once crossed over the dam. The surrounding areas are negatively affected by the non-existent recreation dollars that were once spent in local businesses.

I have seen some criticism against rebuilding that the lake catered to the upper class. I take issue with that. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. Sure, in recent times, some large gorgeous homes were built along the lake -- I guess you could call them nouveau lake people. In my opinion, the lake association was built by common lower and middle class folks, like my family, who weren't able to take fancy vacations to California or Europe. Instead, we spent our summer vacation in a little two-room cottage without hot water or a shower. We ate hot dogs and roasted marshmallows, and the bigger the tractor inner tube the better. No, the lake was designed for people who spent time with their families enjoying the simple things in life and who passed on that tradition generation after generation.

I, for one, think Lake Delhi should be restored so that generations to come can have the same memories of innocent childhood fun that I have. Besides, Mary Jo and her husband Todd still owe me that boat cruise from one end of the lake to the next...and I'm holding them to it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We Call it Maize...

Corn -- glorious corn. You know, it was actually corn that inspired my very first blog. 'Memba that commercial from the '70s about maize...well, actually for Mazola Margarine:

You Tube: Mazola Commercial

I had my first sweet corn of 2011's one of the pure joys of summer in my opinion. There is simply nothing sweeter. 

Fincel's Sweet Corn - Accept No Substitutes
Fincel's Sweet Corn, locally grown in East Dubuque, IL, can't be beat. It's so popular, they have their own website and Facebook page

Fun facts about corn: 
  • Although considered by many to be a vegetable, corn is actually one of the few grains native to the Western Hemisphere, where it has been cultivated for centuries.
  • Corn is America's number one field crop. It leads all other crops in value and volume of production.
  • In the U.S., corn production measures more than 2 times that of any other crop.
  • Over 55% of Iowa's corn goes to foreign markets. The rest is used in other parts of the United States.
  • Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota account for over 50 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. 
  • The "Corn Belt" includes the states of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.
  • Corn is produced on every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica. 
  • The area known as the "Pacific Rim" region (in Asia) is emerging as the world's fastest growing market for U.S. corn. There, most of the corn is fed to livestock to produce food for humans. The majority of the world's population is located in the Pacific Rim region. 
  • Farley, IA bills itself as the "Heart of the Cornbelt."  

Corn conjures up a lot of memories from my childhood: 
  • Buying produce, including corn, from an old man in Farley--Hank Otting--when we were growing up. We may have been farmers, but we were not gardeners. We let someone else do the work. 
  • Picking rows and rows of corn when my brother Dave decided it was a good idea to fill up the corn planter with sweet corn seeds and making 6-8 rows of sweet corn the full length of the field. Helping Pearl freeze the corn was hot sweaty work...and there always seemed to be a bejillion flies buzzing around when we were shucking the corn. 
  • Running through the cornfield on hot summer days -- the lush green leaves that retained moisture would feel cool on our skin. 
  • Wondering if the corn really would be "knee high by the 4th of July." With hybrid corn, fertilizer, and insecticides, the corn was usually well over my head by the 4th of July. This was true even when I was "grown." 
  • Hanging out in the cornfield next to the Farley Park with my friends when we were like 15 years old and splitting a 12-pack of beer among about eight of us. We thought the beer tasted awful, but we thought we were "cool." We probably were buzzed after one beer. 
Every season has its particular rituals. For me, it is eating enough sweet corn in a span of week to not crave it again until next year. Next homemade salsa, concocted when the tomatoes are "just right" and the jalapeno peppers are so hot I think I can feel a hole burning in my stomach.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summertime...And the living is easy

It's hard to remember that just about six months ago, it looked like this outside:

I don't think the really heavy stuff
is going to come down for quite a while...
We were all bemoaning the snow and the cold and the long dark days of winter. Mother Nature finally gives us a reprieve, and now we are all complaining of the sweltering days and the excessive heat warnings that have been in effect since last Saturday. I'm reminded of a country song that was popular when I was in my "country" phase living in Texas: 
Why do we want
What we know we can't have
Why don't we want
What's in the palm of our hands
Why we always looking
At what's just out of our grasp
Why do we want
What we know we can't have
Isn't it just typical human nature? We are rarely happy with whatever weather we are experiencing. I do my share of whining about the weather, particularly when I'm out walking Bailey in temps that can swing from -30 to +105. But, honestly, I LOVE IT! 

I've blogged before about the awesome power of Mother Nature, and I love the dramatic changes of our Midwestern seasons. Just when we think we can't take another day of cold and snow, the soft rains of spring fall upon us, turning everything green, and the earth comes alive with beautiful flowers and fertile farm fields. Summer brings long lazy days spent lying on a beach or siting on the porch watching fireflies. When we think we are going to melt from yet another hot day, we begin to feel the cool crisp air of autumn. The landscape becomes ablaze with vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. We begin to think of pumpkins and hot chocolate and big bowls of chili and creamy macaroni and cheese. We await the first snowflakes  with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve, and homes and businesses come alive with twinkly lights and big red bows. Then, the cycle begins again with the new year. 

Here's my summer snapshot of Willow Creek Park and my attempts to document the changing seasons in my neighborhood. 

July 2011
"Relish the moment" is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less. Go barefoot more often. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along.
(Excerpted from Robert Hastings, "The Station")

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Deep Water Starts a Breeze!

As you may recall if you follow my blog, back in early May I blogged about the new slalom ski I purchased that was going to solve all my water skiing issues. Well, I'm happy to report -- thumbs up to the Pilot.

Old School -- New School
Here's the comparison of my "equipment." The ski on the left is what I have been using basically since I finally mastered (if you can call it that) slalom skiing about 27 years ago. It's actually my sister-in-law Janis' ski. Back in the was pretty awesome. Enter the Pilot. As you can see, the Pilot gives a lot more surface area, which is what is supposed to make skiing so much easier.

I think my blog on May 1 included some customer testimonials that you would "pop right up" with the Pilot. Well, I can't say that I popped right up, but I will say that the deep water start was significantly easier with the Pilot. I didn't nearly drown myself before exiting the water, and I did not displace my contacts on the start. So, what was probably a 15-20 second (I'm speculating here) ordeal with the wooden Connelly, was reduced to maybe 7-10 seconds. That might not seem like a lot of time, but try it when you are:
  • Old
  • Fat
  • Out of shape 
  • Holding on to a rope attached to a boat that is going 25-30 mph
I did, however, still get a wedgie coming out of the water. For the sake of the poor people we might pass on the river, I always address that issue first. Here's an action photo of the Pilot at work.

This is about as good as it gets!
It's perfect getting out on the river early in the morning (that's before 10 a.m. in our family). Smooth waters, few boats, cooler temps. Now, here is my niece Amanda really showing how to put the Pilot to work. Oh, to be 23 again, although I'm not sure even at 23 my form was this good.

This is what I wished I looked like!
Here I am with a post-water skiing after glow.

Me and my new best friend!
We tried to get our littlest skier out of the water today. As stated in his own words, "That was not gweat!" He then asked if I could box the skis up and send them back to the store because he would not need them anymore. Oh, Carter....
All decked out.
All in all, a great day skiing. I think my Couch to 5K has improved my skiing stamina as well. I guess we can call that a win win.