Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Drop Kick Me Through the Goal Posts of Life

 Last week I went to Denver International Airport to do my interview for the Global Entry TSA program. Rob enrolled me so that we could both use TSA pre-approved lanes at the airport no matter where we traveled, and we had waited a year for the appointment. The only thing I had to do was show up at the appointed time with my passport.

When I arrived at the Global Entry office in DIA there was a line of four people in front of a large locked door with no windows. A phone was mounted on the wall next to the door, as we all had to call in separately to let them know we had arrived. Tension buzzed between us, especially between the two guys who didn't have appointments. I felt a little smug that I had done everything by the book.

Those of us with appointments were buzzed into a little waiting room adjacent to where the interviews took place. We could hear all the questions and replies and I felt like a "win" was imminent. When I was summoned to the interview window I strode confidently to the green chair and sat with my purse in my lap, from which I extracted a passport.

When prompted, I handed that document to my interviewer and he stared with wide eyes for three seconds before turning it around and showing me the photo page. It wasn't my face that looked back at me, but my son's. I felt my mouth drop open, as described in novels, my heart rate jumped, and I exclaimed, "Oh, no!"

I had pulled the passport from its hiding place the night before, after we hosted a high school swim meet. The late night and the craziness of the swim meet had distracted me so that I could not even find my own face!  Fortunately the interviewer could "pass" me with the use of my driver's license, but I need to go back to the airport (a 90-minute round trip) and get my passport scanned.

When I recounted this to some friends on a walk last week, they burst out laughing. One, a friend from the South, said "Oh Lawd! Drop-kick me, Baby Jesus, through the goal posts of life!" My story forgotten in hearing this delightful phrase, she told us all about the older woman who used it in her childhood. My friend repeated it in a broad Southern accent and I made her promise to text me the phrase later.

I've made countless foolish errors over the last few weeks, some minor and some that caused serious inconvenience. It's good that humility grows in this decade of my 50's - if I made this many mistakes in my 20's I'm not sure my self-confidence would have recovered. Truth be told, it hasn't quite recovered since last week's debacle, but I now have an apt phrase to describe my stumbling through the goal posts of life.

Monday, November 20, 2023

I'm Not Aging, It's My iPhone

"I could see the budding wrinkles on my 30-something forehead and the faint red glow of the eczema patches around my eyes. Startled, I began questioning my appearance. Then I began questioning my device."  - Caroline Mimbs Nyce in The Atlantic

In the last six months I've developed an aversion to taking Snapchat selfies. I'm only on Snapchat because my two older children once asked me to communicate via that app. Text messages are staid and take too long, plus they leave evidence (of what, I know not). So I snap away at the cats, the scenery, my (rapidly aging) face.

What a relief to read the article by Mimbs Nyce which places blame for my aging on the overly accurate lens of my iPhone. The phone doesn't lie (I don't think) but neither does it represent the progress of my aging sequentially. Instead, the rapid improvement in technology has accelerated my decline, when actually I am not so much different than I was two iPhones ago.

This dilemma indicates to me - yet again - that I belong to a different time, a time when mirrors were a frivolous luxury and no one worried about cameras. A time when people read books and wrote poetry, talked on porches while knitting, and mused about local events. Our current world overwhelms me to such an extent that I have taken to re-reading Anne of Green Gables and other childhood favorites before bedtime, reveling in both the familiarity and the simple dramas therein.

I realize that the early 20th century was no great place for a woman, but this early 21st century woman certainly wishes that things would slow down: technology, world events, even aging. As Thanksgiving approaches I am certainly grateful for blessings of family and friends that the world can't take away, and more determined than ever to stop looking in cameras and appreciate every moment.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Adventure as Therapy

 "Movement is medicine. Adventure is therapy."

- Rebecca Rusch, American endurance professional athlete

When my stomach is in knots, I need to move - to swim, bike or walk using both sides of my body, uniting both halves of my brain. When my outlook on life loops around on itself, I look for adventure, a shot of newness and a tangent pointing the way forward out of circular thinking. In October, as heavy news of the world added to a layer of dread-filled sentiment on the daily, we scheduled bouts of adventure to lift mind and spirit.

First, Rob and D. and I went back to New England. Having lived there for seven years, I find the beautiful forests, older buildings, and winding roads to be therapeutic on a normal day, but in the fall New England is magic on steroids. We flew in to Boston, drove up to Vermont virtually hanging out the window to soak in the beauty from the variegated explosion of color from trees on the side of the road and on nearby hills.

The boys ate maple syrup Cremees while I drank coffee infused with a healthy dose of the same syrup and we walked through a sap-harvesting operation near Montpelier. My cousin and his beautiful family hosted us for dinner and a hike at their home near Burlington, and we walked Lake Champlain and speculated how we could someday buy a lake house in the area.

Back to Boston the next day, we rallied with my college roommate at her place in Wellesley, then gathered with my brother and his lovely family out near the coast in Marshfield. We took in a wet soccer game for Mae (in which she scored three goals!!) and Michael and I took a very wet walk in the woods. Many football games were viewed, games played, and a family dinner delivered.

Back up to Boston / Cambridge the next morning where we gathered with two of my roommates on the Anderson Bridge over the Charles River to watch the Head of the Charles regatta. My friends and I walked that bridge every day of morning practice for swimming and diving, and it was fabulously surreal and wonderful to stand at the apex and watch my friend's older son row past us on his high school boat. It was a glorious sunny day and perfect for reminiscing as we waited in Harvard Square for an old favorite brunch place to open up.

Lastly, we stopped back in Wellesley to gather with Rob's brother and his family. It was a long-awaited reunion and perfect afternoon to catch up (watch more football) and play favorite games. So much fun and so perfect the execution, I wondered why I hadn't planned this much more often!

Adventure continues into November as Aden has just landed in Barcelona for a whirlwind five days with her college roommates - one of whom is taking a semester abroad there. Aden planned her days and pre-purchased tickets, composing a great walkable itinerary that follows in our family's travel footsteps. But this journey is all her own and more magnificent for being so.

Alas, the remaining adventure is an uplanned and unlooked-for tangent for William, who re-tore his ACL and newly tore his meniscus in an intramural pickup game last week. After being so diligent with his PT and rest after the last surgery (18 months ago), it's a hard blow to re-up for the process a second time. But who knows what silver lining might emerge from this cloud, what personal connections will be made stronger, what extra time might yield for him. We are always moving forward, always finding something new in life, and even unexpected "adventures" can yield new outlooks and opportunities.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Real Readers (and Autumn, of course)

I'm reassured by the return of lower numbers to my readership stats, convinced now that real humans are represented by those digits. My small contribution to the whirlpool of today's media has softly drifted to the seafloor, where it lies mostly in obscurity. That's what I'm comfortable with, what I'm used to. Let us hope the bots do not rise again.

Moving on .... Autumn is a perennially delightful subject; my favorite season and one that blew into Colorado over the last two weeks, shaking golden leaves to the dried-out ground. We've had a dry September after an astonishingly wet summer and perhaps for that reason, the aspens down at this elevation rather missed the mark, achieving a dusty brown color as opposed to the brilliant yellows of the high country. The cottonwoods are similarly dodgy, but the ash and willow families are burnishing up nicely.

Autumn celebrates the end of growth, the dying of daylight and the return of colder weather. I always want to adopt it's mantra of flagrant, glowing delight in the face of darkness. In further celebration of leaf-peeping, I'm headed back to New England next week, hoping to catch the fall leaves of that splendid territory before they blow off or get snowed upon. I'm venturing north from Boston into Vermont for a day or two then making the happy rounds of family and friends in my old stomping grounds. I may even resurrect an old sweater or two out of sheer delight, though the modern lightweight tech fabrics are almost as worn, and much easier to pack.

In the midst of a truly topsy-turvy world, in which so many people are shocked and suffering, the ritual glory of dying leaves gives me some optimism that the world can keep on turning and evolving in spite of us. Someday the seasons might continue their peregrinations without us, and that thought, too, brings me some peace.

I hope wherever you are, my dear (few) treasured real readers, that you have some seasonal glimmer of joy in your day. Whether it be a scent, a taste, or a vision of a tree in flame, rest assured that I hope the best for you and I am grateful for you.

Monday, October 2, 2023

To Bot or Not?

So why haven't I been posting?

Because the blog had almost 40,000 visitors last month and I don't know whether that indicates individuals and their eyeballs or "bots," my older son's suggestion which I don't understand in the slightest.

If 40,000 real people read the blog last month, that also makes me queasy. I'm used to 35 per day, 100 views at the most for a really impassioned or funny post, and the thought of baring my soul to tens of thousands of people put a hitch in my step.

But it's probably bots. 

As you all know, life's busy-ness has a way of creeping up and burying you up to your neck in sand. To-do lists can taunt from the same desk where you heroically scrap away at the day-to-day work, appointments, and endless emails. In recent weeks I lost my swim club and coaching position and applied to two different clubs in attempts to stay swimming and keep coaching. The two new positions, with their application and onboarding processes, when added to my three existing jobs, kept me underwater (pun intended). The waves keep creeping up to my buried-in-sand position.

I have decent reflexes, but have never been good at juggling. This current schedule represents far too much juggling, driving, trying new things, meeting new people. Newness represents potential and opportunity but it requires the expenditure of far too much energy.

And voila! A laundry list of excuses for not posting which even I don't fully subscribe to. During the pandemic writing was the most positive job-related force in my life (and pretty much the only job-related activity). Traveling away from writing makes me sad. Connecting with friends and family - on a small scale - through the blog feels warm and meaningful and I can't let it slip away.

But no more bots, please!

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Viral Load

 I wrote the title "viral load" and multiple possible meanings chased each other through my mind. Computer issues, fall respiratory illness season, being exposed to negative people, etc. None of these represent the focus of today's outpouring; instead I'm going to reference the pernicious Epstein-Barr virus. According to a random Google search, "an estimated 50% of all children up to 5 years of age and about 95% of adults experience an EBV infection in their lifetime."  Another search result states that "Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is a herpes virus in which over 90% of the population worldwide has been infected. Complications are rare, but important to recognize."

Hmmm. How "rare," exactly? 

So nearly everyone has had an infection, which means they carry the EBV marker in their blood. I initially had mononucleosis as a 16-year-old high school junior, but every time I get a blood test the marker shows, as it will for everyone who has had an EBV infection. In the last few years, possibly as a result of two bouts with Covid and possibly as a result of increased work and activity levels, I have felt this viral presence as an echo of mono, days on end where I can only function for half a day before exhaustion pulls me under.

A friend of mine (who suffers from repeated shingles episodes at times of high stress) referred me to the Instagram account of the Medical Medium, who discusses EPV in one of his blogs. I haven't delved too deeply into this source, other than to recognize that he is a NY Times best-selling author, so take this reference with a grain of salt. In his blog post about EPV (see link above), Medical Medium says "among the reasons EBV is thriving: so little is understood about it. Medical communities are aware of only one version of EBV, but there are actually over 60 varieties. EBV is behind several of the debilitating illnesses that stump's the mystery illness of mystery illnesses."

That same blog post lists the following as related to EBV: eczema, psoriasis, lyme disease, tinnitus, lupus, eye floaters, vertigo, insomnia, shingles and many more.  It's worth noting the lack of scientific proof relating to causality of many of these situations due to EBV, but I'm interested in exploring the data around it as well as suggestions to combat it.

In the last six months I have had two bouts of mono-like symptoms relating to a combination of physical and emotional stress. Even with eating and sleeping well I can be taken down rather quickly by this combination. Exposure to negative or draining people also factors in. Treatment involves rest, cutting back on workout duration and intensity, cleaner eating (less sugar and processed food) and anti-viral supplements. I do Bio-meridian testing and take certain anti-viral supplements on a year-round basis, bumping up the quantity in times of stress.

It's hard to describe to friends and family how an outwardly healthy person (me) can be incapable of climbing upstairs on a given afternoon, why I have to maintain careful boundaries around work and social commitments. My Bio-meridian practitioner can't prove that my symptoms are related to EBV, the testing just shows that my viral load is through the roof. But it makes sense to me that EBV is behind my symptoms. The greater research in this area seems to support the theory, and I'm eager to explore more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Echoes of Pain

 In 2011, the year I trained (and ran) the Chicago Marathon, I triggered my autoimmune illnesses. My body started the long work of falling apart during my training, and when I failed to take enough rest afterward, choosing instead to dive into boot camps and more running, negative symptoms piled up. The gut dissolved, which meant that it couldn't produce neurotransmitters, which resulted in severe anxiety. Then the pain started in my head. 

No one knew what was happening with the head pain, I had to do my own research and bring it in to my internal medicine doctor, who actually did listen to me. I was extremely lucky in having him by my side, but he couldn't prescribe anything to take the pain away. In the decade since my illness I have realized that it was a rare form of sarcoidosis that attacked the cranial nerves. At the time it was coded as "burning scalp syndrome."

I recently read this article Neural Sarcoidosis and had flashbacks to that time. The brave author describes her pain well, it's what I felt, too. Her doctor prescribed opioids to help her function, but for some reason I never ventured into that territory. I vaguely remember being given a referral for a local pain center, but I did not make the appointment.  I was certainly in enough pain.

Over the years I have been grateful that I didn't find an addictive medicine that would have worked for me - I surely would have taken it. Instead I battled for years, slowly rebuilding my gut and my strength with the help of many family members and neighbors. I still have residual nerve pain, but it's manageable with a headband and Advil. I've been able to recover to the extent that I have two "Top Ten" times nationally in my swimming age group of 50-54. I think this is partly a miracle.

Right after I read the article on sarcoidosis I listened to a podcast called The Retrievals. The series deals with women's pain, pain they didn't have to feel. It involves opioids, the necessary use of these as well as addiction, or use gone wrong.  The doctors and nurses in this podcast didn't listen to women who spoke of their pain - they were ignored, blamed, overlooked, called hysterical.  But the women were right. 

As women, we need to find doctors who will listen to us. I was lucky to have one a decade ago, one who listened and managed somehow to steer me back to health by following my lead. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Not Good for the Soul

"And then, also, just to personalize things, I don’t have quite the same feelings that you talked about, Carlos, towards Notre Dame towards Harvard itself because I sort of feel like the institution corrupted me a little bit, right? That I went there as an ambitious kid, obviously, but mostly, it nurtured my ambitious side at the expense of my intellectual and moral side, and that that’s sort of what these schools do. It’s not just that you go there because you’re ambitious. It’s also that they exist to teach you that you should want to be more ambitious than you already are in ways that is not — like, I don’t think Harvard was good for my soul, for instance."

Ross Douthat, "I Don't Think Harvard was Good for My Soul"

When I read the transcript of this podcast episode from New York Times editorialists my pulse quickened and my heartstrings twanged in resonance. The article - inspired by the Biden administration's pursuit of a lawsuit against Harvard for its policy of legacy admissions - described my feelings about the institution better than I have ever been able to do.

In our society, upper-middle-class families and their children compete for grades and varsity spots and good high schools, but can go to any college and do well long-term vis-a-vis job, marriage, household income.  I recognize that this unfair advantage comes due to decades of racist housing, lending, and hiring policies. Opportunities are already skewed way out of proportion to merit.

What the Ivies and other so-called "elite" institutions of higher learning do is bait the upper-upper levels of society into competing for the thinnest margins of high ambition, the promise that the applicants and their families will be guaranteed a place in the nation's stratosphere if they finish school at one of these places.

Which seems ridiculous on the face of it because there are no guarantees in life - ever - and going into a mountain of debt for your undergraduate education seems more likely to topple you from the pyramid than to put you on top (only students who exhibit financial need receive it, and many of these quality individuals do not choose to apply). But people like the idea of guarantees and they buy into it at their own expense and to the benefit of institutions like Harvard, which has the biggest endowment in the world outside of the Catholic Church.

A Sackler was in my freshman dorm (which is revolting now), a Roosevelt in my upperclassman House. I knew would-be governors, Secretaries in the US government, successful people of all persuasions. My closest friends (who did not pursue the above careers) value community, working for the benefit of others, and relationships. They seek to protect their families and put good energy into the world. 

I learned from my missteps. It was a mistake for me to choose a college that prioritized status and wealth and power when I did not really want those things for myself.  My ambition at the time didn't meet the standards of the institution, which I soon learned.

Which doesn't mean that I gave up all my worldly possessions and went to live and work among the people who need it most. No, I'm being hypocritical. We're lucky enough that we could choose a good neighborhood and a great school district in which to raise our kids. The small difference being that I urged my children to attend state schools and stay away from elite institutions. One ignored me and applied anyway, but my record of zero involvement with the school, zero donations, and low employment status gave him no legacy advantage. He's far more qualified than I was, but that didn't count for much - and I was grateful.

When we already have so much, why scrape, bend and bow to the god of having the most?

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Bottomless Joy

We've just returned from spending four days with my family in Montana, a state where both my parents were raised, where they met, married and later retired. They built a lovely home on Flathead Lake where my siblings and I, our spouses and children, have gathered for twenty-plus years. My father was a city councilman and mayor in their small town, and when his health declined, my mother nursed him for seven years, largely in the house and town that previously knew them as a power couple.

When our group of twenty-two gathered for a singalong last Friday evening, Mom was the brightest and most festive voice, the loudest clapper. My brothers danced a jig around a red solo cup as we sang the songs we've adopted over the years as family anthems: the Proclaimers "500 Miles" with its da-da-da-da chorus that we smother with "Clav-a-det-scher"; with John Denver's "Wild Montana Skies" and with the Georgetown fight song (my father, my brother and my nephew are Hoyas).

As I looked around the circle, every face expressed emotion: those who were leaving early the next day had tears in their eyes, the youngest grandchildren were wide-eyed and perhaps a bit horrified by their fathers' boisterous vocals and crazy dance moves, and the spouses were good-natured, singing along with not an eye roll in sight.  But Mom was my favorite to watch, her smile beaming and her blue eyes bright, not a tear even threatening - only joy. It's as if the many years she spent accompanied by sorrow carved out a hollow that is now full of happiness and light. I've never seen such capacity for happiness, such joy reflected back on the people who co-created it.

My brothers, my sisters and I are so blessed in the luck of having two strong parents who made their love known to us throughout our childhood, and we are impossibly blessed now with a strong mother who put a an impossible load of caregiving on her back - only to stand without bitterness when she was relieved of it, ready to fill that space with more love, with light and with joy.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Nature Sounds in Real Life

My new electric car beeps and peeps constantly to warn me about close cars, veering out of the lane, not following the car ahead of me with alacrity. For a few weeks I was annoyed by the car's chatter, but we've made it through the initial phase of our relationship and now we couldn't be parted. I discover new bells and whistles daily, including the ability to play nature sounds on the stereo. The digital console offers "wild forest," "waking up in the city," and some water medley that I haven't yet tried. Wild forest sounds appealed instantly, and I spent a happy commute listening to unbridled birdsong and crickets. I can't warble along, but I plunged into a happy memory of our recent immersion into a real forest with living creatures and their music.

On Saturday, Aden led William and I on a punishing but beautiful hike along the skyline peaks of Boulder. She did the Boulder Skyline Traverse with a friend once before, when she was in 2020 pandemic shape (i.e. fabulous due to daily hiking or biking) and felt that I needed to try it, despite the fact that I am not currently in pandemic shape. William came along to set the early pace and (after some grumbling in the middle) finish off with fabulous cheerleading as I faltered. I ended the hike mid-way up our fifth and final peak, when the air temperature reached 80 degrees and my body emphatically concluded that 18 miles and 5200 feet of elevation gain was enough. William continued to the finish line and ended his day with 20 miles and 600 feet more of elevation.

I review the hike not to laud our accomplishments (well, maybe a little) but to reflect on the good fortune that allows us to immerse ourselves in actual forest. A 45-minute drive to the kids' apartments in Boulder and a 15-minute drive to the trailhead brought us to the precipice of adventure. When we left the trailhead at 4:50am the birds were up and in full voice, sending us floating along the trail on their happy sound waves. Warblers, chickadees, finches, sparrows all gossiped and chattered at high volume and we stopped talking to appreciate nature's surround sounds. 

In the faint light before dawn we couldn't appreciate the wildflowers where the birds were sheltering, but we found ourselves in daylight soon enough. After a tough upward scramble over the first two rocky peaks, we began to stride along the Green Mountain trail, where Queen Anne's Lace grew as high as young trees and all manners of pink, purple, white, gold and orange wildflowers met us at every turn. The sleepy birds gave way to happy humming crickets and circling butterflies and our nature bath was only interrupted by herds of trail runners passing on our left.

I realize that not everybody has the chance to step off the beaten sidewalk, get out of their car and find the real natural soundscape, and I'm so grateful that my car is not the only place I can hear birdsong. Now I just need to get back my ability to walk, and it will be time to plan the next one.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Parenting Roller Coaster

 On the rare occasions that I ride a roller coaster, my stomach clenches tight and then flies out of my mouth as I go down the steep hills, forcing me to scream it out so I don't spontaneously combust. The past month encompassed a series of metaphorical roller coasters that turned my stomach in knots, but screaming it out did not help - nor did clenching my teeth and holding my breath or swearing that I didn't care and trying to look away.

Parenting can feel like an amusement park ride, sometimes a fun diversion, a source of joy and thrills, and sometimes a source of dread and horror. A good friend asked me for parenting advice this week, because I am older / my kids are older, and I've seen a few things. I passed along one choice tidbit that has served me well: when you are grappling with a tough situation, don't start playing the movie forward, don't envision your child's future life based on their current actions.  "That's good advice," she said, "because the movie in my head right now is rated R."

What to do when your child flouts your wishes at every turn, runs afoul of the curfew police and cares not for their parent's rules, heartfelt conversation, carefully written behavior contract?  I obviously don't know, because none of the prior methods has been effective this summer.  We hope for peace, for general compliance, but every time hope surges and our metaphoric party balloons inflate, something else happens to burst our balloons and send us back to the drawing board.

Yesterday I woke up happy, pleased that our kiddo was on a church mission trip about 90 minutes away, texting good news. The space between us felt restorative and a few days of peace glimmered. Yet only three hours later my phone rang with news of a precipitate stomach bug and the request for me to drive down and pick up my young missionary. No matter that I had hours more of work, that driving close to three hours would blow up my day. I vented to tears of frustration for a few minutes and then did what I had to do. The youngster and I didn't speak for the whole ride home; I didn't trust myself to open my mouth.

Hopefully the amusement-park antics of our offspring will subside soon, hopefully peace is on the horizon, but I can't play even that happy movie forward since I have to deal with what happens today. One day at a time, I keep thinking. To parents everywhere, I feel your anguish and your trials as you strap yourself once again into the roller coaster. Hold on tight and scream if you have to.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Month of Problem-Solving

June was a month of problem-solving. After celebrating Aden's college graduation with beloved visitors and a family trip in May, we crashed to earth in the first month of summer. From stains and smells to flooded basement bedrooms to a not-so-sneaky teenager leaving the house at all hours, parents' heads spun 'round and exhaustion crept in at the cellular level.

We try to teach the children how to solve problems, how to grit teeth and shoulder in, taking deep breaths and pushing through rather than sitting on the couch and giving in to a good wail. The boys helped us move furniture, rip out wet carpet and carpet pads, and carry everything away so fans could dry the bare concrete. Their involvement helped me keep a stiff upper lip when I wanted to tantrum, buoyed me through a trip to Target for fans and donating trunk loads of stuff we moved and found we didn't need. 

This blog won't go into the teenage craziness, suffice it to say that certain behaviors cannot be repeated or someone will be out on their ear. The tension of parenting older children wears on the nerves as we try to let them go and distance ourselves from their choices (and resulting consequences) while still recognizing when a firm voice and rules are required for minors. We are older and wiser now then when we started this parenting journey, but also way more tired. 

With the solstice in our rearview mirror and Colorado drying out from its wettest June ever, my hope is that the road ahead stays mainly smooth for the near-term. We had to replace our air conditioner last month, as well, so we're ready for the high temps that certainly lie in store. I doubt the path will be smooth for long, as life is mainly about confronting challenges, but a few days of laid-back rest and refraining from obstacles wouldn't go amiss. Wishing our readers a happy Fourth!

Thursday, June 22, 2023

House Messes and Hello to Singapore Readers

Rex naps curled up in the desk chair next to mine. Two long toenails extrude from his front paws, little half moons winking out at me from between the pads. My daughter is the only soul brave enough to trim Rex's nails, but he's wise to her efforts and heroically refrains from napping during the evenings that she's with us. She currently sleeps here a few nights a week to cut down on the commute to work, and when she's sitting on the couch with us Rex keeps one eye open. So far, she's been cunning enough to cut 8 nails, which leaves slightly more than half to go.

The cat's urine corner has provoked much interest from my readership, particularly from Singapore, and I'm curious to know why the cat travails spread so far and wide? Is cleaning up after pets (and children) a universal theme? Is lack of success also universal? For we have done two carpet cleanings, one oxy application, a baking soda dosage and numerous vacuuming and that corner still issues ammonia fumes. Aden rode the exercise bike near the infamous pee square and - after finishing a heated workout - sprinted from the house to get a few inhalations of fresh air. The door slammed so loud I thought the zombie apocalypse was upon us.

In today's issue of "house challenges" we have a new air conditioning unit being installed on the east side of the house. I cringe at the banging, drilling and dropping of heavy objects, but now in the quiet stillness of what must be lunch time, I also worry that the highly-touted, far-more-efficient unit will not be done as promised this afternoon. Though I feel fortunate to live in a house, 2023 has been a hard on the repair and replacing budget. I wish I could curl up and sleep with the cat, but I have to go clean up all the messes.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

It Never Rains but it Pours

It's almost the solstice and Coloradans have barely seen the sun, though in an age of permanent drought and climate change, we try hard not to complain about six weeks of rain. Despite our gratitude at full reservoirs, reduced watering costs, and the lack of forest fires, it's getting a bit tedious to find mushrooms supplanting the xeriscaping, weeds growing as high as my thigh, and open water swimming cold enough to purple my fingers.

At the gravel pond this morning, where I swim with the Colorado Wild Women triathletes, the water was 12 feet higher than normal and a chilly 63 degrees. With an air temperature of 49, we were reluctant to enter the murky waters, and after 48 minutes of swimming in a sleeveless wetsuit my whole body was shaking. Summer swim teams register similar shock in umbrella-festooned social media posts.

I blame the recent shocking humidity for residual smells around the house. Rex's pee-corner has been attacked multiple times now with the heroic carpet cleaner, and we can almost sense (smell) victory. Rob and I enjoy the new device so much that we embarked on a program of cleaning Aden's room and the upstairs hallway, too. Daniel strangely declined our services from his bed, when we woke him up at 11 am. 

In other news, I purchased Olympic Trials tickets for swimming. Watch out, Indianapolis, I will descend upon you for three days of super swim fandom (a year from now - which should serve as enough warning). My family kindly agreed to accompany me when I offered to buy the tickets and pay for the hotel, so I have backup support. Fortunately for the swimmers, the events will be held indoors and the water temperature will be an appropriate 78 - 80 degrees. Barring another pandemic, we'll be ready to roll.

It's possible that my next entry will register sunny activities such as biking or sunbathing, mowing the mile-high lawn or not-watering the flowers. Stay tuned!


Sunday, June 11, 2023

Living Room Urinal

From exotic European locales to the acrid scent emanating from my living room - how the pre-summer season has turned! 

We woke up yesterday to a horrible smell that seemed to originate in the litter box and we immediately moved both outside to clean both the litter and the plastic receptacle. Did that work? We returned to sniff and decided... definitely not. My nose led me to a corner of the living room, near the exercise bike, which apparently had been turned into a private urinal by one of our two cats - I suspect the older, buff individual of often sour temper.

My nose burned and I gagged when I found the source on the (previously white) carpet / couch / fireplace. Such a befoulment has never occurred in the 8 years of owning pets. The cat wanted to punish us, that was clear, but what was the family crime? Perhaps leaving for 10 days, or being late to breakfast?

I am, admittedly, OCD about odors and cleanliness of our floors, perhaps because I was in charge of sweeping and washing the kitchen floors as a young person. I grew to love (no, practice intensely) that job until growth and bad joint alignment made floor washing on my knees painful. If memory serves, the job then went to my brother (but I'm horribly afraid that I'm whitewashing the memory and my poor mother actually took that over for me - at least until we got a mop).

Yesterday I scrubbed and cleaned to no avail. Texts went to friends who had carpet cleaners, until Rob got tired of my moaning and just bought one. We carpet cleaned and scrubbed and put the air purifier in the living room. This morning, I cautiously emerged from the bedroom and decided... better but not gone.  I never wanted pets! Oh for the dolorous begging of children that lead me down dark paths.

Another weekend day to scrub and clean and attempt to purify the house before I use it as my office all week. I'm off to buy peroxide and white vinegar, more detergent and stronger carpet cleaning solution. Wish me (and the errant cat) good luck. If the scent doesn't improve in Colorado's strangely humid June, the cat might be in hot water!

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Legos and Lingerie

The Copenhagen airport welcomes international travelers with the requisite well-stocked duty free shop and scores of recognizable stores. Legos originated in Denmark and the flagship airport represents the brand well. Adjacent to the Legos store was Lingerie, a juxtaposition that delighted my children. "Legos and lingerie, Mom! Do we have any extra kronors?"

The title and visual stuck in my head, but what the stores embodied was the evolution of a Europe I saw as extremely different from the United States back in my first trip (1992) to one that maintains many striking similarities with this country in 2023. While the native citizens of the countries we traveled to could usually peg us as Americans within 5 seconds of our opening our mouths, we occasionally were greeted in Swedish or Danish by someone who couldn't tell we were tourists (yay! victory). 

In Stockholm, an ironworker artist spoke to me in Swedish for several minutes while I smiled and nodded away. My daughter finally intervened and told him we only spoke English (well, Spanish too, but that was irrelevant); she asked me later why I didn't say anything and I explained that I was so delighted to be perceived as a native that I hadn't the heart to stop him. (In Iceland, they knew immediately who we were and never expected to communicate in Icelandic). 

When I went around Europe as a college junior, our teeth and tennis shoes gave us away. Now everyone wears New Balance, Brooks, Nike, or Hoka, and good teeth flashed from smiles everywhere. For the true world traveler, Europe was never so different from the United States and it's quite possible that 30 years of experience has just given me new eyes to see and appreciate this, but I also believe the global community has grown more similar - whether due to capitalism and big brands, converging national interests or pressing global problems I couldn't say, exactly. 

What I do know: traveling with our children tells them that the world is big and beautiful and that people have much in common wherever we go. They now know that they can move through most areas of the world with some degree of familiarity and are not afraid of embracing bigger and better travel adventures. 

Personally, viewing the gorgeous coastline of Norway for the first time - with its fjords and inland mountains - made the ticket from Copenhagen to Reykjavik completely worthwhile. And then while traveling from Reykjavik to Denver, viewing the stark and extremely high mountains of Greenland emerging through scattered clouds into a deep blue sky made my heart soar. Seeing completely new vistas, learning new things, recognizing profound similarities and bonds with citizens of the world, all make travel the best adventure I know.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

How Swede it Is

We emerged from the T (tunelbana) into bright sunlight and bracing clear air. After an early morning flight from Copenhagen to Stockholm we were befuzzled and starving, so after stashing our luggage with the Frantz Hotel (a building from 1647 that provided excellent lodging and breakfasts) we walked to Gamla Stan, the old town, on one of Stockholm's fourteen islands. We happily took in the pastel-colored fronts of the buildings as we ate burgers on gluten free buns and toasted to William's 20th birthday. 

After lunch we wondered into the parade for the daily changing of the guard at Sweden's National Palace, admiring the shiny, helmeted brass band and the beautiful matched horses as the soldiers clopped over the cobblestones to exchange duties in front of the huge palace building. Then on to the Nobel Museum, William's choice, a fascinating look at the history of Alfred Nobel and the 120+ years of prize-winners.

The temperatures warmed as the day went on, and (after we rested) we walked down the Monteliusvagen, a scenic walkway that looks out on Lake Malaren and several of Stockholm's main islands. On our way back to the hotel we encountered a music video in the making which used a Bugati Chiron, according to William a 3-million-dollar car that he never expected to see "in the wild." He snapped a few pictures from the top of a nearby staircase and sent it to a few friends proclaiming his "birthday present."

We took in a panoramic view of the city on an nearby hotel's rooftop bar, thronged with Swedes in sunglasses enjoying the first nice stretch of summer weather. Stockholm and its waterways spread out around and below us and the sun - still high at 7:30pm - twinkled off spires and windows. An unbeatable day.

Friday we jaunted via commuter ferry to Djurgarden, an island full of museums, to enjoy another spectacular day. Hordes of blond Swedes accompanied us on the ferry and Aden overheard a local explaining the crowd to her visiting friend: "it's not a holiday but it's the first nice Friday of the year and people took the day off." Our early start helped us beat the crush to the Vasa Museum which enshrines an entire 17th-century gunship that sank in the harbor on its first outing.

Then to the open-air museum of all things Swedish, Skansen, where we had ice cream and realized we had once again found the center of children, strollers and baby carriages. We walked by the Abba Museum but it was sold out until the next day, much to Daniel's dismay. Rob's knee was bothering him, so we cut the walking a bit short and tried to absorb the celebratory feel of the city and its residents.

Our last day was taken up by a boat tour on Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, observing the rest of Stockholm and its many preserved green spaces, as well as historical sites and rapidly evolving waterfront spaces. The boys did a little more shopping downtown, finding the H&M and Lululemon storefronts looking much the same as they do near our home Park Meadows Mall.

As luck would have it, the weather - combined with the joy of nearly everyone we saw - lifted Stockholm to great heights as one of our favorite cities. The trees and tulips bloomed away, boat horns honked happily, and our visit fell into place. Next stop would be a night in Copenhagen followed by the long journey home through Reykjavik (where my suitcase would get an extra night), but that's a tale for another day.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Copenhagen and the Bubble

Copenhagen brings to mind bicycles and babies. From the minute we departed the airport to the time we left the city, our eyes were bedazzled by the number of cyclists on the city streets. Cyclists have their own raised and separated lanes and move confidently through the most crowded parts of Copenhagen on their minimalist cycles, some helmeted and some not, almost all wearing ear pods. Rush hour pedestrians studiously obeying the walk signs - an incursion at the wrong time means dodging both cars and bikes.

Also, babies. According to an article I read shortly before our trip, Copenhagen is one of the ten best places to live in the world and families there seemed to be making up for the declining birth rate (falling in Scandinavia as it is in the rest of the developed world). We saw every version of baby carriage on the streets and babies attached to the front and back of bikes in carts or on special seats. It was a special attraction to just stand near a popular intersection and observe children in their element, elbows out and jostling through tourists as easily as their parents.

What else about Denmark? Design of course, on which they pride themselves. We ran into a friendly Dane outside of our rented apartment, name of John, who proudly informed us that both his sister and his brother-in-law had designs in the DesignMuseum. Had we seen them? We had, the day prior. How many other museums were we going to see? We didn't have the heart to tell him that we would be leaving the next morning with no new museums on the horizon. Just look at the street lamps, he said, and gestured overhead to the brown lamps strung over the bike lanes. We nodded dutifully and expressed our appreciation.

John went on to tell us about the "Danish bubble" he lived in (his words), and their conservative-liberal politics. He explained that the country's homogeneity makes political agreement easy, and he expressed sympathy with the lack of such accord in the States. His wife is American, and he lives part of the year in Florida. He exclaimed over the 12 years it took her to get Danish citizenship and pointed out that they didn't let many people in. Hence the free medical care and university. "But it's a small country," he noted, "so we can do that. We don't have anything like your state governments and your range of diverse opinions."

True. I listened to him defend the U.S. to us and mused over the contradictions he presented, i.e. that one could be socialist only if one drew the line sharply at who would be cared for. He noted that the Danish pride themselves on appearances, which we observed in the fashionable apparel on the streets and would have seen in the home of every Dane (said John), had we been admitted.

We enjoyed the glimpse into Denmark's history, populated with old monarchs, Viking conquest, and ancient spats with the Baltic Sea neighbors. Kronberg Castle, the inspiration for Shakespeare's castle in Hamlet, was a rare treat. When we entered the enormous ballroom, a chamber music group sang old chorales that echoed against the tapestries and arched roofs. The signs explaining each room were the best-written attraction insights we had ever seen, and Sweden was so close across the strait that our cell phones welcomed us to that country before we ever set foot in it. Daniel proclaimed Hamlet's famous monologue, "to be, or not to be..." in the courtyard.

After paying homage to the graves of Kierkegaard, Hans Christian Andersen, and Niels Bohr and stocking up on a few fashion pieces we were ready to head to Stockholm, Denmark not quite grabbing our imaginations in the same way that Iceland had just a few days prior. But it left an imprint nonetheless and sparked many a good conversation with the kids on politics, design and literature at the long table in our rented kitchen. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Iceland Impressions

 Day 4

A volcanic landscape with few trees, a fresh layer of snow in the nearby mountains, a driving and rainy wind.  Smacked upside the head by radically different surroundings and going on 24 hours without sleep, we ventured in to the Blue Lagoon spa, with geo-thermal power and water over 100 degrees F - heated by steam coming from 2000 meters below. My family can stay in the water for a LONG time despite 45 degree temps if soothed by warm water, a fresh drink, and a facial mask.

What we learned: Icelandic contains six additional letters and is remarkably difficult to read or understand. While Icelanders tend to know a few words of English, our language is not ubiquitous and Google translate was pressed into service on more than one occasion. (By contrast, the Danish language only has 3 additional letters, one added as recently as 1948, in the Danish Spelling Reform). 

Iceland feeds its population largely with produce grown in greenhouses as they do not have topsoil to spare; only grass can grow on the volcanic rock and no tilling is possible. Farm animals do graze the patches of grass that intersperse bright green moss. The landscape is easily the most impressive and overwhelming I've ever seen, and standing in the (growing) rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates amazed all of us. 

After exploring the rift we had a delectable lunch at a farm-to-table restaurant owned by the farmers and I actually had to choke back tears as I picked fabulous french fries off my children's plates. It was the best Mother's Day lunch ever, and the kids had ice cream afterward, with the donating cows chewing their cud placidly in the room next door, looking on through their windows.

Icelandic (beef) stew tastes delicious, the rain is cold and omnipresent, fish jerky I do not recommend. Reykjavik sits on a bay surrounded by mountains that can't even be seen when the clouds and rain descend. If the weather hadn't broken late on our second day we would never have noticed the mountainous arms that encircle its harbor. Traveling Iceland's Golden Circle by car felt like venturing into the fields of Rohan from Lord of the Rings, or country north of the Wall in Game of Thrones (which was filmed in Iceland from season 2). 

Traveling from Reykjavik to Copenhagen on an early flight - in combination with jet lag - threatened to wreck us all, but arriving to a bright spring day and a park dotted with sunbathers lifted our spirits, as did a surprise encounter with one of William's high school classmates. More about Copenhagen in a few days...

Monday, May 15, 2023

Aden Graduates from CU Boulder

 The sounds of laughter echoed from the game table all last week, as Rob and I scrambled to finish projects for work ahead of Aden's graduation and ensuing grad trip. As Connie mentored my mom in Rummikub and Racko, and Bill assisted by flinging her cards at our not-so-neat stacks of family Solitaire, the hilarity of all gathered lifted my spirits and reminded me of our luck in assembling all of the grandparents for the oldest (on both sides!) grandchild's graduation from college.

Aden worked hard at school and - like all 2023 graduates - overcame the traumatic early end of classes her freshman year due to covid, and the and disruption of remote schooling. She fought against the situational depression served up by pandemic isolation and continued to work hard from home. When classes - and college life - returned, she served as the women's captain of the CU club swim team, helping to revive the team after pandemic disruption. Her senior honors thesis studied green spaces in Denver and predicted how these might be affected by climate change -  and how they might ameliorate its affects - in future. When she received a summa cum laude as a result of her work, I cried.

Graduation day blew in cold and rainy, so we watched the abbreviated graduation ceremony for all graduates on live stream. Aden and her Environmental Design classmates were in the front of the stadium and we delighted in seeing several shots of their happy faces as we all gathered around the TV. Fortunately, Aden wore a raincoat under her graduation gown, though her sandaled feet got soaked. Our crew made it to Boulder for the afternoon ceremony of her ENVD group, happily held inside. It never rains in Boulder, said many a dignitary, and yet the rain continued unabated throughout the evening. 

Nothing dampened our family's spirits; we gleefully consumed chicken wings and pizza after the ceremony and toasted our girl with kombucha and selzer. My boys, who bellowed in support of their sister when her name was called, pondered the high bar set by Aden and wondered where we might eat at their future grad nights. Mom watched the Celtics pull out a playoff game on the TV and I reflected on our good luck in having parents and grandparents who set examples of hard work and who came to celebrate and share in the success of the next generation.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Full Circle at USMS Nationals 2023

The crowd roared when I surfaced from dolphin kicks in the last length of my 100-yard backstroke. I knew what this meant; four-time Olympian and former World Record-holder Jenny Thompson had already finished her race in the lane next to me, most likely setting a new National record for the 50-54 age group. My spirits and my tempo dipped - it wasn't a great race for me and I still had quite a ways to go. But when I finally touched (Jenny had time to get a pedicure while waiting) she smiled at me and came over the lane line to shake my hand. I congratulated her on her record and heaved myself out of the pool, relieved to be done and to have been awarded an Olympian handshake.

Day 3 of the US Masters spring national championships in Irvine was a let-down after my first two days, when I hit two best times in Masters and two best in the last five years. This is how we assess our progress now, as the age groups tick on by, we look back only a few years to compare times and splits, carefully trimming the assessment period to include more recent (re: old ladyish) swims. The first day was especially poignant as I raced the 100 free in Lane 1 - 39 years after I raced my first 100 free ever at the same pool and in the same lane. I had to shake tears out of my eyes before placing my goggles on my face and tell myself to get a grip - thankfully I am still faster than I was as a newbie swimmer of 13.

Twenty-four hundred people competed at the meet, with 1100 women sharing a small locker room suited for 50. Bodies of all shapes and sizes filled the tiny space, athletes from age 18 to 101, 22 Olympians and far more of us regular Joes and Josies. Heat sheets and timelines were posted with a magnifying glass attached to the side of the board, so old eyes could find heat and lane numbers without glasses. I met new friends, reunited with old ones, kept my eyes peeled for Olympian performances, and just generally fought nerves as best I could.

Despite competing from the perspective of adulthood, when race performances matter far less than they did in my youth, I couldn't escape the anxiety of performance. Neither could anyone else, it seemed, as we chatted before our races while shaking out arms, legs and jumping up and down to stay warm and get our heart rate up. One fellow competitor kept me company before the 50 back and admitted, "I normally take a fiber pill each day, but I don't need one here!"  Morning meals went right through us and upset stomachs couldn't put much down during the days of racing.`

My sister came down from LA County to hang out and watch on Saturday and she chatted easily with my teammates and random spectators as I went back and forth from race to race. She had someone ask what age group she was in, and had the vagaries of putting on a tech suit explained in graphic detail. Karen was a great sport and took excellent video footage - and then took me out to dinner afterward.

Racing was exciting and uplifting at times while a bit discouraging at others. Friends at home congratulated me for "putting myself out there" which I will take credit for, and I congratulated myself for accumulating a few good stories. The Colorado swimming community - and especially my teammates - made for a warm and inspiring support group and our regional team won the competition. As always, I am glad I went and glad that I don't need to compete again until next year.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Spring is Maybe Here?

I stepped outside yesterday and caught two squirrels shagging on the back porch. At least, I think they were shagging - I've never seen squirrels do that before. Their act confused me because they swapped roles with some regularity, freezing for a moment mid-swap to catch me staring out of their side eye. Ah, spring.

As Colorado weather fluctuates between mid-80's / sunny and mid-30's/snow, I'm trying to clean up the yard and help our newbie plants along, watering on the hot days and protecting on the freezing days in between. It's odd to me that the weather fluctuations are behaving exactly like scientists predicted in my Environmental Studies textbooks. I took ENVS from 1999-2001 and lo and behold, predictions become truth on the daily. 

My hairdresser and I were conversing about current hot topics and activism, and I confessed to being a climate change radical in the early 2000's, dragging my young-at-the-time children to Green Team meetings and rallies. Aden referred to this experience in her honors thesis, when she traced her environmental interest (green spaces in cities) back to those early exposures. 

I started Earth Day activities at the elementary school and hosted newspaper reporters at our Green Team meetings. My efforts trickled off a bit when three kids in school with daily activities caught me in their wake - like a tiger by the tail. But some community efforts outlived my presence; Earth Day approaches now and the signs for creek clean-ups and the school drive to recycle electronics dot the neighborhood.

Life has worn down my sharp edges in the decades since I graduated, so though we use solar panels, xeriscaping and look to buy an electric car, I still fly on planes, my composting is shoddy and I don't always remember a clean re-usable cup at Starbucks. Now that my children are adults, I hope that perhaps their emerging activism will re-energize me and help me find new solutions to old problems, including what to do about randy squirrels.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Back to Church

 Early Easter morning found three of us in our normal spot in church for the first time since the pandemic. Daniel and I have been in the building for Sunday School many times over the past three years but never to a regular service. Not that Easter is a "regular" service; our pastor compared it to the Super Bowl or even a Taylor Swift concert. The choir was on point and the orchestra played superbly, but the most amazing thing for me was scanning a sea of happy, hopeful faces. The world has not felt happy or hopeful in recent months and so the joy of the singers as they bobbed to their hymns, the warm greeting of fellow worshippers, the welcoming waves from good friends a few rows up - all suffused us with a rosy glow.

I admit to feeling twinges of unease at the echoing coughs and sneezes that are so easy to hear in that cavernous space, especially when the crowd fell silent, but if I'm brave enough to go to airports, concerts and swim meets it's definitely time to go back to church. The sermon resonated, too, as Rev Mark prevailed on us to keep hope alive and to keep moving forward. 

Our college kids met us at home after the service and watched the online version as we prepared scrambled eggs and pancakes. They sang quietly along to familiar hymns and recited well-worn words of prayer along with us as we moved about the kitchen. Despite the heavy punctuation of non-attendance, the narrative of our family's faith journey still hops along. Though complacency has been jettisoned by cataclysmic events in the world, hope springs eternal alongside the daffodils that mark our Easter table.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Family Swims at College Club Nationals

 Two qualifiers, a mad scramble for tickets, a bout of COVID, a senior thesis and a week to semi-recover with grandparents; it was a whirlwind of titanic proportions that lead up to a fabulous college club swimming nationals for Aden and William. The highlight for me was timing during the Sunday morning session. William was standing near me as Aden swam the 100 free and dropped an astounding 1.3 seconds off her lifetime best. As I leaned over the bulkhead to stop the watch for a swimmer in my lane, William whooped and shouted in my ear at Aden's mad dash to the wall. Aden then jumped out of the pool and came in for a hug (as my next heat's swimmer was safely cruising away) and we both cried. She finaled in that event, and later that morning she joined her brother and another guy and gal to swim a  mixed relay that will land them on CU's record board for one of the top five swims of all time (50 years of the club's existence).

The kids swam that relay in the lane where their father was timing, and after the event concluded we were able to get family photos on deck. It was a priceless moment, a fitting culmination to all the effort Aden has put into the CU club swim team over the past four years, serving as women's captain the year after the pandemic and helping to rebuild the team. William overcame a bout with COVID two weeks before the meet to swim two best times and final in his best event. Less than a year out from ACL surgery, he jumped back in the pool in December and built himself back into fighting shape. He's also on the record board at CU for his 100 fly.

Bill and Connie were amazing as they drove to and from Columbus multiple times during our stay and indulged our whim of watching the entire Saturday session online when we couldn't get tickets to that day. They bought food, loaned cars, helped draw posters, and sat in the uncomfortable bleachers with us for hours, waiting for that one minute of swimming. Our college swimmers agreed that spending time with their grandparents in Ashland was a far superior reason for the trip than a swim meet, and the hours of cards and games more essential than racing.

My heart is full to bursting after a week of family time and watching all three of my kids overcome multiple challenges to support each other. The extended family support and generational example continue to prove that family stands up has your back no matter the circumstances - in today's world there is nothing better, not even trophies or record boards.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Reaching Cruising Altitude

My bright red 30th reunion "Anniversary Report" came in the mail yesterday, a harbinger of many 1993 classmates preparing to gather in Cambridge this June. I withdrew it gingerly from the cardboard envelope as if the crimson binding would bite my fingers - in a Hogwarts cum Harvard sci-fi move - for not contributing this go-round. Rob asked me why I didn't submit anything, and I didn't have a quick answer. I remember writing something for the 25th reunion and given that the pandemic created a time-lapse in my brain between 2018 and today, it feels like yesterday that I contributed.

Classmate life summaries have always been tricky for me. Tenured professors, award-winning authors, heads of hospitals, life-saving doctors, judges, cabinet posts, etc. etc. rise out of the page to threaten my small narrative and self-confidence. I hesitated to open the book but once the list of names was opened, I couldn't help skimming through, looking for old friends and roommates.

Far fewer people wrote this year, perhaps for the same reason, perhaps because the 30th reunion is not one of the "big" ones. I was startled by the tone of the entries that do exist - prior emphasis on career triumphs and goals has been replaced by a major focus on relationships with friends and families, the loss of connection during COVID, illness, divorce, addiction. While not startled that these life changes impacted my college companions, I am blown away by the vulnerability, the desire to help people going through similar struggles. When I say that my classmates never revealed weakness in college, it would be an understatement. Everyone was on top of things, everyone busy, driven, outwardly confident and intimidating. How the wheel of life has turned for us all.

I'm grateful for the openness of people that used to scare me with their intelligence and brazen confidence. I'm warmed by love for parents, children, significant others that was expressed beautifully in many entries, and saddened by the additional deaths that transpired in the last five years. Real life priorities have emerged in the anniversary report and they shockingly align with mine.

One regret - I didn't come up with the most trenchant line in the whole report, a perfect summary of life in our 50's expressed in three words:  "reaching cruising altitude." Leave it to one nameless classmate to put me in my place with delicious writing.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Five Weeks and A Hot Minute

After a long wait, I finally had my tough conversation, my "come to Jesus" meeting. In a crowded Starbucks, hemmed in front and back by other chatty coffee drinkers, I prepared to speak the hard truths in a carefully modulated-for-coffee-shop voice, to make convincing eye contact in a space full of distractions, and to actually postpone the drinking of my convivial beverage until after the important business.

It took five weeks and a hot minute for me to prepare for this conversation, to herd my ranging emotions into a controlled space and lead with my brain. Until two days prior I had planned to go with Plan A - one fully supported by my family and fervently championed by my mother - but after a surprise encounter with a third party I jumped tracks and hit the gas on Plan B.  Though waiting for the meeting was torturous and my mind couldn't get off the hamster wheel of "what to say" and "what to do," I am grateful for the extra time to process.

Early in the frozen darkness of meeting day I walked with a dear friend, a therapist with deep practical and intellectual knowledge of human foibles. She reassured me when I felt weak, bolstered my determination to stick with "I" statements despite a terrible desire to slide into four-letter words, and let me in on her recent findings about certain triggers.

While I'm not quoting or even paraphrasing, let me give you the gist. It seems that people have certain psychological / emotional needs. We're all familiar with Mazlov's hierarchy and the basic physical requirements for life, but less comfortable with what we need emotionally. Two of the requirements for my healthy psyche include 1. Feeling valued, and 2. Feeling included. When I do not feel thusly, I can either assign it to a bad moment and a difficult group and move on, OR become sufficiently awash in humiliation, shame, and anger to move into feeling that I will never be valued or included again.

This was an "ah hah" moment for me. Though I can usually keep perspective on slights and oversights, this particular event shot me right to the stratosphere of "never" feeling the good things again. Once in orbit, I found it hard to come down. Only after many conversations, a great deal of soul-searching, and a hard look at my own limitations could I determine the best path forward.

So it's over, at least for me. Events now are out of my control, but thanks to family and friends I came out of this weird season with greater self-knowledge and understanding (and a less fervent desire to hurl four-letter words in certain directions).

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

How to Let Go of Anger

Humans are animals, and when we're cornered our fight or flight response engages. Our brains and bodies can't always distinguish between fear generated by a tiger chasing us up a tree or a hostile boss trying to cut us down in front of the team. Either way our amygdala is triggered, our heart rate skyrockets, and our breathing becomes shallow.  Emotion overcomes thought, and terror or anger subsumes rationality.

I understand the dynamics of flight or flight, and I've taken classes on how to move control of my thoughts from the primitive urge amygdala to the logical, reasonable frontal lobe. My problem is that I can't actually do it at the moment. 

My "cornered animal" response was triggered almost a month ago, and though the physical symptoms - nausea, skyrocketing heart rate, hot flashes, etc. - have diminished almost completely, my brain just can't stop circling around the hurt and anger. Somehow I lost my grip on the "rise above" mentality and now it's floating in the atmosphere. I can almost see it disappearing when I look up and shade my eyes.

Given that I haven't been praying or meditating, I'm not wholly surprised by my failure, but I am disappointed in myself for giving this event - this person - power over me. Knowledge isn't enough to stop a spiral, I need to put in the hard work to step sideways and out. I know my Mom is praying enough for both of us, but that doesn't let me off the hook.

A big part of my issue is that I haven't been able to hash it out with the person who hurt me. When my cats get  mad at each other they hiss, scratch, yowl and then chase each other all over the house, nails raking across the wood floors, tails puffed, teeth bared. I haven't yet had the opportunity to bare my teeth and hiss, so my reaction has all been internal. That's not healthy, and until I can process it verbally and get a response, I'm stuck.

As a good friend told me last night "there's always room on the high road" and so I've set my sights on an amicable conversation rather than a catfight. It might be a struggle to get up there, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Out of Bed

Our 16-year-old son recently had a meeting with his school's college counselor. In preparation for the meeting he had to fill out a lengthy assessment of his non-academic college readiness. Questions included: "can you get out of bed with just an alarm?" Subtext: do your parents have to bang on the door, pour water on your head,  or otherwise force you to move? Daniel gleefully circled "No" for his response, a fact I'm pondering now as three wake-up calls have yielded no movement and the arrival of his carpool looms.

Rob and I both dislike the extra effort required to get Daniel out of bed on school days, though we sympathize with the desire to stay asleep. Both of us parental units have been under stress lately, waking up at 4:30am with phantom physical pains or problems that spin in our anxious brains without yielding a single solution. The goal is always to get enough rest and wake up naturally, before the alarm blares and shocks a sleeping partner. In fact, my specific goal is to be in bed when my earplugs go off.

You read that correctly - my ear plugs power up during the day and provide white noise at night while I sleep. The charge lasts eight hours so when the plugs' noise abruptly stops - first one ear (the plug I put in first) and then the other - I feel like I crossed the finish line, having slept my ideal 7.5 hours and the slowly moving to wake up. Rob gave those earplugs as a present; they block out snoring and other random wake-up noises. They don't prevent me from snoring, but if Rob wants to block me out he knows where to buy his own pair.

Alas, I pulled the earplugs out at a wakeful 4:30am tussle with the covers. My left big toe was hurting for some odd reason that I will probably never understand. Beginning the day with a grouchy teenager and a sleep deficit is no one's preferred modus operandi, but here we launch into Tuesday with the hope of a nap and good goals for tonight's rest.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Grace, Grit and Purpose

My mom texted me yesterday after watching an inspiring interview with President Jimmy Carter. Carter told the interviewer that he focused on living his life with "grace, grit and purpose." Mom knew I needed a dose of inspiration with a salting of grit, so she passed on the uplifting phrase with lots of heart, prayer and thumb's up emojis.

It's interesting how the world - or a few people in said world - can really bring us down, even when we know to our core that we didn't do anything wrong. A few weeks ago, by virtue of rules, regulations and the choices of a few people, I was brought low. I mean under the concrete, so hurt that tears wouldn't even come. The dual fears of humiliation and exclusion came home to roost in my chest and my amygdala took over my internal regulation, causing unending waves of nausea and stress. My frontal lobe didn't stand a chance, couldn't find a way out of the circular thinking and remembering.

Rob was out of town for part of that week so I binge-watched silly SyFy shows that took my brain to a different world. At one point during my TV marathon a female lead preached to another: "The world can't handle a strong woman. If at any point the world tries to bring you down, take it as a compliment." I clung to those words as well as Carter's, trying to process my way out and forward.

Knowing that my hurt doesn't figure at all on a global scale (given earthquakes, wars, environmental devastation) didn't help at first, though it does now. The challenge of the next few weeks is to find a new purpose, and to rise above the circumstances handed to me with grace and grit. I can dig my teeth into the grit piece, but I'm scrambling for the grace to exit calmly, with good wishes, when all I wanted for the past week was to hurl my rage and grief via sharp words. 

I imagine a round table of all my favorite people, those whose opinion I value most. I know they would tell me to keep my head high and a smile on my face, to make my choices from a position of strength and certainty. I just need a few more days to re-charge the batteries of grace and grit before I can move forward with that purpose and make them proud.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Hiking through Heartbreak

Aden and I went winter hiking on Saturday, a sunny warm day which made us think (erroneously) that the trail would be clear. Rather, the shady trail up the first Boulder Flatiron was snow and ice-packed, and we managed the ascent with assists from various trees and rocks (ie crawling on hands and knees). We knew the downhill would be precarious as we weren't wearing spikes or yak trax on our hiking boots., which error was constantly noted by the skilled and well-outfitted Boulder hikers who passed us.

"Be careful" called one mom as we slithered by.

"Don't worry, we're going very slowly" I reassured her. 

Even the precocious four-year-old in her wake piped up, "Oh I see why, they're not wearing spikes."

But the view from the top was stunning: blue skies and pine trees, a broad vista of the plain with Denver and only a faint layer of smog beyond. After exchanging hellos with a prospective CU parent and son from the Virgin Islands (the only people with worse footwear), we decided to go down a different route to avoid sliding off a rock face.

The path we took abruptly ended - or was lost - in a snow-covered rock field and we hesitated, unsure of the best route forward. After checking GPS, Aden fixed a path across and down the mountain, zigzagging from tree to tree. We checked every foot placement, every step, laughing and swearing at the same time, both grateful for the need to concentrate. As two individuals currently struggling with heartache (though of different types) we both found that need for focus and survival helpful in taking our minds off painful subjects.

After we finally arrived at a maintained trail, my daughter realized that we were close to one of her favorite outlooks. Only problem - we had to scale a boulder-covered hill and crawl through a small hole in the rock feature to reach it. I looked dubiously at the narrow aperture and raised my eyebrows when Aden demonstrated how to hoist one's self up through arm strength alone, lower the head so as not to get clobbered, and then slither through on her belly. None of those actions are in my normal repertoire, but there was no way I was going to be left behind.

As I clawed for handholds and dragged my chest and belly across the rocks, I was bombarded - not by rocks - but by a sense of deja vu. My father used to take us out hiking and climbing in Montana when we were kids, dragging us through rough terrain, up steep crevasses and along terrifying cliffs. It occurred to me that my father was literally in the air around us - as well as living through his granddaughter - encouraging me to be strong. I nearly burst into tears (which would have made the ascent even more hazardous), but then I felt embraced and emboldened by my two angels.

I made it, careful not to look down until my derriere was firmly planted on a stable rock seat. We sat and took in the spectacular view for a while, and then Aden helped me down the way we came up. We slipped and slithered the rest of the way to the car, laughing at our narrow escapes. My clothes were much the worse for the wear but my spirit was slightly better, and I was filled with gratitude for the support from family members past and present.

Friday, February 10, 2023

State Championship Finals

 The Colorado 5A (largest schools) State Championship finals are set for this evening and the entire swim season ends with three hours of racing on a Friday night. The wonderful JV squad that I coached swam their final races last weekend at a successful league championship meet, so I wouldn't say that the success of their season - or my season - rests on tonight's results, but our team record and our team banner waits anxiously for record-setting swims starting at 5pm today.

Swimming is a ridiculous tough sport; athletes follow the black line on the bottom of the pool for hours a day, minds busy either focusing on what they're doing (the hope) or spinning wildly through their their to-do list, and their recent social interactions (top of mind for HS swimmers). We swim until our arms are too tired to lift the fork at dinner, until our skin bleaches and peels, until exhaustion becomes familiar.

Coaches write their best, most focused workouts each day, including strength and resistance training, stretching, sprinting, distance, stroke and drill work. We preach technique until we're blue in the face, only to be interrupted by young faces arguing over the playlist emanating from our phones. SZA, Disney, Taylor, etc. seem far more important than the correct catch and pull of the stroke - at least until these final championship weekend when the fast tech suits come on and young faces transformed by nerves.

On deck we agonize over taper, or "resting" workouts, planning the descent in yards for weeks, urging kids to eat enough, sleep enough to rebuild muscle tissue and throw off the overwhelm so typical in high school. For some swimmers (usually upperclasswomen) the taper hits perfectly and time drops away as a result, leading to joyful celebrations by coaches and shocked delight on the face of the swimmer.

For other swimmers, the taper doesn't work or their nerves take over. Arms and shoulders tight with nerves can't move as quickly, and the swim doesn't look fluid or strong but frenetic. Coaches agonize over those swims, wondering if the athlete needed a few more days of rest, a day off, another pep talk. On a weekend when we had 29 best times and multiple drops of many seconds, all I could think about was the one swimmer who had a rough meet. "What could I have done differently?" was a refrain for days after that.

So the season ends tonight and we will have tears of joy, tears of sorrow, looks of delight and looks of disappointment. For all of the varsity athletes, practice will resume again on Monday for their club teams but for the coaches, a well-deserved 8-month break will begin, and we will ruminate repeatedly on what worked, who swam well and how to help those who didn't.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023


 Apologies for the void in production of blog entries, I am drowning in all things high school swimming! (Pun absolutely intended). My voice went missing a week ago, my sleep schedule is off and my dreams haunted by the question of which girls need more taper (rest). Our team has four meets in one week and the meet lineups are driving us to distraction. Perhaps on Sunday I can rest for a half-day, before composing the final weekly email to parents and the last meet lineup. That's right, our season is close to the finish line, and perhaps soon I can wrestle with words again, find creativity in my brain instead of swim sets and sendoffs. My husband and son will be glad to find dinner on the table and their wife/mother more emotionally stable. It's coming, all, I promise!

Monday, January 2, 2023

New Year, New Outlook?

 A friend of mine posted on social media that his resolution for 2023 was "set the bar low."  My eyebrows raised of their own accord, and I stopped mindlessly scrolling to read in more detail. Did he mean to give up? Schlump away my January in PJs and pizza boxes? While that sounded appealing, I couldn't in good conscience click "like" until I read more.

"Set the bar low" was a missive cloaked in click-bait, of course. My friend meant to accept what is and appreciate all the good that exists in the present state. Offering encouragement to love yourself as you are, to appreciate everything you can about current circumstances; he even asked readers to lower the bar for family members. "Don't expect much," he said, but enjoy all of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that evolve. 

That last sentence holds challenge and appeal for any mother. If I could lower the bar for my 16-year-old, would that look like more chips and salsa in the bedroom? More spilled chocolate milk on the stairs? Or would it give me space to enjoy the unique sense of humor, the endless sports trivia, and blur the edges of a harmless snack-food addiction?

The  New York Times recently offered the best advice from its readers over the year of 2022. One of my long-time favorites emerged: "be where your feet are." The reminder to be in the present, free of expectations, worries, regrets, echoes out a part of the "low bar" post. They both urge us to let go and live. But the more I read the words and the more I write about them, the harder this advice seems.  Why is it so much easier to spin up the anxious, forward-looking movies in my mind than to appreciate the present moment? 

So I'm going to attempt to set the bar low and stay where my feet are in 2023. Despite the humble words, I suspect it will be difficult. But difficult's my happy place - a hard-to-achieve standard for the year to come. Now that I've warped my friend's words into a terrible challenge, I'm finally resolution-ready.