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After years of sloth, I am now a mama who runs and practices yoga. I write about exercise; parenting a grownup child as well as two little kids; and whatever is annoying me at the moment.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Riding a bike in Iowa: Ragbrai 2018 report

Earlier this year, one of us -- either my 25-year-old son Tory or I, not sure -- came up with an idea: Let's ride RAGBRAI this year.

RAGBRAI stands for "Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa". The Register is the Des Moine Register, a paper I tried unsuccessfully to get hired on at many years ago as a young small-town newspaper reporter in Newton, Iowa, and later in Des Moines at a small business weekly. (Years later, I made it to the Chicago Sun-Times as a reporter, so it all worked out fine in my book.)

That aside, the Register puts on this bike ride every year over seven days across the state. Back in the early 1990s, when I was that reporter, I was married with a small boy, Tory. I had thought about riding RAGBRAI but it didn't work out. And then I moved away, remarried, had more kids and became a runner. I went years hardly ever touching a bike.

The opportunity to finally do RAGBRAI was too tempting. Tory's dad and I agreed that he'd take the first four days in Iowa with our son, and I'd ride with him the last three days. Tory's extended family would drive an RV across the state and crew him and whichever parent was with him. Perfect. 

RAGBRAI's web site recommends biking 1,000 miles to train. I didn't do nearly that much, but I'd already been doing spin classes regularly, post-hip arthoscopy surgery in 2017. I also abundantly use our city's bike share Divvy nearly daily, so I squeezed in as many 20-25-mile rides as time would allow as the July RAGBRAI dates approached. Meh, I figured. I'd just go slow and do my best. 

I drove to Newton, Iowa with a rental car and a borrowed bike rack, that, unfortunately, didn't fit the rental car. I managed to keep the bike on the car by using bungy ropes to attached the bike rack to the car and the bike to the bike rack.

I sweated it the entire 300-plus mile drive to Newton, one of the towns the ride would stop through. It seemed appropriate to start the ride there, considering I had started my previous career in that town as a very green reporter and where my oldest son was born.

When I arrived at Tory's great-aunt Helen's house, he and his dad were already there. They were exhausted and hobbling a little as they walked, telling of heat and hills. 


A good dinner later by Helen and her sister, Gerry (Tory's awesome grandmother), and we were soon in bed. I woke up around 2 a.m., fretting about riding and how I hadn't yet lined up enough babysitters for the following week to pick up the kids at camp. Ugh.

The next morning, Tory and I got our bikes and stuff together. I ate a banana and we were off to Reasnor, a tiny town 10 miles away. It was hilly, but oh my, it was cool and the sun was rising and it was amazing. A breakfast bowl from "Farm Kids", one of the many pop-up food places we'd see again over the route, and we were happy and full. 

I was feeling spunky at that point, and gabbing Tory's ear off as we continued east toward Lynnville and Sully. Suddenly my chain popped off and I couldn't pedal.

This is one of the things that holds me back from biking more on my own. I know jack shit about fixing a bike. I've never even changed a tire. Deep confession.

So naturally, I panic. Tory's like, "calm down" and starts messing with the bike. Some thing that holds the chain in place is bent. He tries to fix it, but I still can't pedal. 

Maybe 15 minutes into this, one of the members of the Air Force Cycling team -- which Tory told me rides RAGBRAI to assist troubled cyclists -- pulls over and begins to help us. He's a tall, young guy and super nice. He warns me he might break the derailer-whatever-it-is if he bends it back into place, but we have no choice.

It works! He tells us his name is Greg and he's stationed at Scott Air Force Base, which is near St. Louis. I tell him my dad's retired Air Force in Omaha, and thank him for his bike help. Tory and I continue on a mile to Lynnville where -- thank you!! -- there is a bike shop popup where someone is able to fix my bike enough to finish RAGBRAI. 

That is a great thing about RAGBRAI -- in addition to food and drinks and funs stuff in every town, there are bike repair people to help you. What a relief!

The rest of the trip was rolling hills and stopping in little towns. I ate an amazing Iowa pork chop out of a napkin on the side of the road. We stopped for ice cream. When we got to Sigourney that evening, we wound up in a weird, ginormous costume warehouse (!?), lured by the promise of free beer. We got to the RV park and took a very cold shower in  4H barn-like place for $5, but it was good to wash off the grime. Total mileage: 75, more than 3,000 feet of elevation climbed. I felt tired, but elated.

Day two was another 50-plus miles to my favorite Iowa town, Iowa City -- home to the University of Iowa and my diehard football fan husband's team. It was less hilly, with a stop in Amish country's Kalona, with delicious roadside goodies (homemade pies are a weakness of mine). Kalona is home to a great brewery, Kalona Brewing, so naturally we stopped for a beer. The taproom was packed full of bikers, everyone in a great mood. In Iowa City, we went to dinner at Pullman, one of my new favorite Iowa City restaurants, and walked around on what was a beautiful summer night. I missed my family but it was pretty great.

Day three was 74 miles from Iowa City to Davenport, one of the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. We trekked through West Liberty (super cute, quaint town) and I grabbed a pancake breakfast at the fire department in Atalissa to the east. We then rode through Moscow (blink and you missed it), Wilton, Wildcat Den State Park and then Montpelier, where Tory took a small roadside nap to allow me to catch up with him. This part of Iowa was a pretty break from the cornfields and soybean fields we'd been riding through, with more trees and some rolling hills.

We then went through Blue Grass, a tiny town with a gigantic drive-in movie theater, before finishing our ride to Davenport. The day had a Mayberry-like quality for sure -- like time had frozen at some point in eastern Iowa. 

I'd never been to Davenport. The riverfront was nice (I love riverfronts in general), and it was great to cross the finish line looking out at the Mississippi river (Big River! we always yell to the kids as we cross between Iowa and Illinois. I plan to yell that to them when they're teenagers, too). A quick burger with Tory, his grandparents and great-uncle, and we were on the road home to Chicago.

I absolutely loved RAGBRAI and biking. I'm so thrilled that I was in shape enough to do the ride and enjoy it. I'm wondering if I'm starting to like biking more than running. I can't wait to do another long organized ride.

Thank you to Helen in Newton for dinner and letting us stay at her house for the night; Curt for driving his RV all week and being all around awesome, to Tory's grandparents Mark and Gerry; who had always been so kind and wonderful since I first met them 30 years ago; Chris, Tory's dad, for doing the first four days with our son; Brett, my husband, for sparing me for a few days to do this awesome trip with Tory; and to my dad, who (mostly) patiently taught me how to ride a bike as a kid, and never fails to remind me how I used to crash into metal garbage cans.

And thank you to Tory -- a 50-year-old mom and 25-year-old guy don't have a lot of common interests, so I'm glad that you were willing to do this with your parents. It's fun having adult kids!

Tory and I in Keota, Iowa

Our comfy home

I think this is West Liberty

Atalissa, Iowa

Atalissa Fire Department making pancakes for cyclists

Drive-in in Blue Grass. Tory just signed the wall.

Friday, May 11, 2018

An accident and a race

Last Saturday, I got up super early, quietly dressing for a half marathon race just over the border in Wisconsin. It would be the third of three races in three weeks, and first races in my new age bracket of 50-54: the Lakefront 10-miler, 4/21; the Ravenswood 5K, 4/2; and that day the Wisconsin half marathon in Kenosha, where I ran my last full (miserable) marathon pre-hip surgery in 2016.

My friend Shaun picked me up at 4:45 -- we are used to very early runs together, so it's not unsual for us to meet at this hour. It was a warm-ish, windless morning -- really gorgeous out.

We were driving northbound on I-94 -- the Edens Expressway, as it's called locally. It was just past the first light of the day, but overall still dark out.

As we casually talked about our weeks, we came up upon what were two undistinguishable, large dark objects on either side of the freeway, not moving, with small dark objects strewn across the lanes.

It quickly became clear that something very bad had happened.

We stopped talking and Shaun pulled over to the right side of the road. The car accident must have just occured, because no one had yet stopped. It was a little eerie that no one was around, even at that hour.

I got out and walked over to the truck behind our parked car, while Shaun called 911. I didn't think about what I could be walking up to or if I could even open the door of an overturned car. As I approached, the door suddenly opened, the top of it scraping hard on the pavement and a man with a goatee burst out. He had blood on his face and teeth and stumbled as he unsteadily stood up and started toward the freeway. Right after him was a woman, who crawled out. I steered them both away from the road, worried they would walk into traffic.

The man fell over into the grass, and laid still. She followed and leaned over him, crying "Babe! Babe! Wake up!" I asked them if they had anyone else in the car, and she said no. I learned later that they have a two-year-old daughter together who, thankfully, was not in the car.

I have no medical training, but I didn't want to leave them until emergency responders arrived, so Shaun and I agreed to stay. It was growing more light out by the minute, and it seemed suddenly there were more people pulling over, wanting to help.

The car on the other side of the northbound lanes was pretty smashed up, and I was relieved to see that someone was moving around in there. I learned later that the person was trapped, and I don't know the condition of the second person in the vehicle.

The man with the goatee, a young-ish Latino man, groaned in pain as he laid on the grass next to the freeway. His right hand was an indistinguishable bloody pulp, and I could see his wrist bone exposed. 

I didn't want his life partner -- that is how she described herself to me -- to have to look at it, and felt I should cover him to protect him, so I grabbed one of my clean shirts (I always have clothes to change into after a race) and gently covered him up, even as he cried out. God, it was awful, listening to a human in so much pain and being able to do so little.

HIs partner was so pretty, longish black hair and wearing a leather jacket, spots of blood all over her. She was anguished that she was driving. He kept moaning "I forgive you babe, it's not your fault!" They both said that they never saw the other car, and indeed, the other car didn't have any headlights on.

I gently hugged her and reminded her that she did her best . I didn't know what else to say.

It felt like an eternity that we sat there. He was now bleeding thru the gray t-shirt and both he and his partner moaned about why an ambulance wasn't there. Finally, a fire truck pulled up and ambulances began to arrive. I hugged her and said good-bye, that I would pray for her. I haven't stopped thinking about them all week.

Later at the race, when we met up with other friends running the race, we heard about this bad accident that snarled traffic and, purportedly, some runners couldn't even get to the race.

It was surreal that for the grace of God, we got there when we did. If it had been sooner, who knows if we could have gotten caught in it. If it was later, I could have been a disgruntled runner annoyed that I couldn't get to my race.

The race itself was fine -- it was hot and sunny and I was nauseous the last few miles. It was one of my slowest half marathons at 2:25.  I just didn't care about the race and kept wondering about the couple. Did he lose his hand? I couldn't tell from all of the blood, and hoped that that wasn't the case. Did they have insurance? Would they be OK?

I sent an email this week to the suburban fire chief for the town that responded to the accident, after googling what skimpy news reports there were. It was a long shot, but I had to ask.

He actually answered me with a really nice email, citing HIPPA laws and said even fire departments can't find out from hospitals whether victims make it and how they're doing. He said if they contacted him, he'd let them know that I want to check on them and see if they need any help.

I hope they're OK.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Frozen Gnome 10K: Race report

A year ago this week, the same week the 45th president was inaugurated and determined women marched across the globe, I had my first running-related surgery.

I had a hip arthoscopy to repair a torn labrum and to shave my thigh bone, to eliminate bone spurring and get it to fit right in my hip socket again. (Dr. Shane Nho through Rush Medical System, for those wondering. He is fantastic.)

Right before that surgery, I did a race that is one of my annual favorites, the Frozen Gnome 10K/50K in Crystal Lake.

 It is wicked hilly and stunningly pretty, and known for "buttslide hill", which is exactly what it sounds like. Every year I do the 10K and am sore for days -- the 50K is five loops on that terrain, and I admire the runners I see every year who do the whole thing. I also wonder how they can move the next day.

As I ran it just prior to surgery a year ago, my hip customarily ached deeply, as did my lower back, groin and the inside of my thigh. Despite how much running had come to frankly suck by then, I was optimistic about my surgery.

I wondered to my friend Shaun, who himself was rebounding from injury and starting to try and lose weight he had regained during injury, what this race would be like a year from that day, meaning this year.

Welp, Shaun and I both had an awesome time and awesome race this year.

Our usual Frozen Gnome crew carpooled from the city -- Krista, Shaun and Lindsay, who moved to Minnesota this past year but made sure to be in town for Frozen Gnome. (Yeah, we REALLY like this race so much that we're willing to cross state lines)

Another of our running friends, Terri, joined us this year. Aside: Terri fosters cats and gave me my awesome cat, Reckless, who we adopted four years ago this month. Here he is, licking our bathtub. Ick.

Crystal Lake is a pretty good haul from Chicago, at least an hour's drive in no traffic. It looks like it belongs in Iowa somewhere. Since it's a long trip, we spend the car ride every year discussing incredibly timely topics like the temperature at the start (this year it was 4 degrees. Since it was above zero, we're like, cool!).

There's also the annual speculation of how bad the ice will be on the course this year, how many pairs of socks and tights we're wearing, how many shirt/layers, which hat, which neck buff, etc.

(This year: Blue winter running jacket, windbreaker vest, Icebreaker wool shirt-- these are the bomb -- thickest tights in my possession, one thin and one thick pair of smartwool socks, and trail shoes. Other than my butt, I was pretty warm once I was running).

After previous years of deep snow, slush and icy -- we were surprised to see no snow and no ice. A freak thaw earlier in the week, when our temps got to almost 60 degrees, eliminated everything.

The start line consisted of runners, lots of them ultrarunners ready to run 50K, jumping around to stay warm, as some with a bullhorn counted down and a Journey song got blasted as we started running. One guy grumbled that this was the song that the White Sox ruined when they won the World Series in 2005 (Don't Stop Believin').

The ground was dry and frozen into uneven ruts. The trees were naked and bathed in sunlight. It was just gorgeous.

And I felt good, even with ice in my hair and on my eyelashes. I panted up and down hills I'm not used to running, but it felt good to breathe hard and struggle.

And it felt good not to hurt in a bad way.
Frosted hair, literally

I met a couple of Flatlanders, Holly and Stormy, along the way (an ultramarathon group named for Illinois' flatness in a good deal of the northern part of the state). It's fun to recognize someone on a course I've seen on the Flatlanders Facebook page or from the Strava app.

Stormy wore his daughter's white bunny-eared hat as a reminder of her, after losing her. His story isn't mine to tell, but man, I have thought of that hat a lot since the race. And I hugged my littlest ones a little extra when I got hom.

The rest of the race was a maze of steep hills, bare tree trunks, hard rutted ground and sun. Buttslide hill was snowless, so it required manuevering down the terrain like a crab, like gym class in grade school.

The rest of the story consists of meeting up in the warm car afterward to swap race stories, *maybe* someone flashed a running bra at someone, and hitting Starbucks for a satisfyingly large coffee.

How do you run in  the winter? Easy -- find friends like the few hundred who love running Frozen Gnome and other trails in every kind of weather. They're out there, and they make getting out of bed and bundling up worth it.

My friend Shaun has lost a ton of weight and gotten into amazing shape. I can barely keep up with him running. He had a great race, finishing way ahead of me. I'm so happy for him. I love a good comeback story.

Running friend lovelies

Next up: Indoor triathlon this week.

"Tammy" and "triathlon" are seldom mentioned in the same sentence. Um.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Happy New Year, friends!

Recently, my 8-year-old said something to the effect of, "If you say dumb things, that makes you dumb."

As I think of goals for 2018, I'm now thinking of it in terms of "if you do dumb things, you're dumb."

After a series of years running marathons and two 50Ks, 2017 was humbling.

2017 running mileage: 507 miles
2016 running mileage: 1,001 miles*

*Many of these were pure crap [see crappy Wisconsin marathon 2016 report], because of a torn hip labrum that resulted in hip arthoscopy surgery in January 2017.

2017 biking mileage: 802 miles
2016 biking mileage: 540 miles

I found this year that I really like doing weights classes and yoga. I used to hate both. I rediscovered enjoying bike riding, including a 50-mile ride with my 25-year-old son and a few great running friends on a really hot fall day in Michigan

(I will never forget my son changing his clothes in a dumpster in Three Oaks, Mich., after the race)\. And us laughing about it, while I changed in a car, for crying out loud.)

I also found this a challenging year that had me weigh a job offer in California, where in my heart I want to move, but it was not the right thing for us.

It also took me to a therapist, as I tried to figure out why I was so pissed off at the world. Turns out, I was entering menopause. NO ONE TOLD ME HOW MUCH IT WOULD SUCK.

I ditched the therapist, rediscovered my wonderful regular doctor and now feel sane and normal, if a little sweaty from time to time.

I also returned to running in May, four months after what was a successful surgery. I'm very grateful to Dr. Nho.

This year I will turn 50. As I think about a second century of life, I am determined to do lots of things.

I think the most important is to be a good, kind older person.

I spent a good deal of the first century of my life taking from others, being needier rather than giving.

I'd like to reverse that, and be the giver.

I'm also really worried about all of the crabbiness and negativity that would be easy to cave in to. When someone cuts me off in traffic, and my normal, first reaction is to swear and be pissed off, I am *trying* to remind myself that people, most people, are trying to do their best.

(My husband thinks this is ridiculous.)

There's a lot about life that makes it easy to become jaded and negative, that sucks the joy out of you.

I don't know if it happens to everyone in their 40s -- the decade I like to say when people become their parents, whether they like it or not.

Our politics, the poverty we see daily, the nasty words on social media and news shows -- I still can't believe that this is it.

I see it in people I know who can't forgive, who keep score. I've been guilty of that so many times. I don't want to be that person anymore.

Recognizing my good luck to have had the upbringing and opportunities not afforded to all, I think about how trail running and yoga and hanging with good people and reading books reminds me that there is more to this world than all of the shouting that goes on.

There's some pretty good things about life. I want to enjoy them more, and share them with people who need them.

I want to avoid being another shouter, and do more good. If you have ideas, send em along.

As for running and biking, here are my plans:

--Frozen Gnome 10K trail, January (this is no ordinary 10K and my fourth year of this amazing race)
--Lifetime indoor mini triathlon, January
--Lakefront 10, April
--Ravenswood 5K, April (my hood!)
--Apple Cider Century bike ride, September
--DPRT marathon, October (I ran this trail marathon in 2015 and loved it)

I know I will still say and do dumb things this year. But hopefully, I'll do more good, too.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Fun Mom": Race report

Eight months ago, I had hip arthoscopy to fix my right hip, which had a torn labrum and bone spurring.

Translated, it meant I couldn't straighten my right leg entirely, which messed up my running gait, which messed up running. Surgery in January repaired the labrum and shaved down the top of my thigh bone, so it fit in my hip socket again.

I feel SO much better.

Since May, I've been easing back into running, easing as in, I decided to join a friend of mine by signing up for the Fox Valley half marathon last Sunday.

I've run similar races undertrained and a few months post-partum, so why not, right?

Fox Valley is a good hour's drive outside of Chicago to a string of small towns along the Fox River that are cute, rustic-in-a-good-way and remind you that you have definitely left city limits. The Starbucks doesn't even automatically lock their bathroom.

I met friends Krista and Lindsay, Krista doing the half, too, and Lindsay doing the full, both as fundraisers for Feed My Starving Children. Both of them have recently dealt with some personal challenges. I love them both dearly, and admire them for toeing the starting line.

Especially on a freakishly hot September day. Chicago is in an unusually hot spell this month, and the mercury was forecast to rise well into the 80s that morning.

I didn't sleep much the night before, because I was like, wtf am I doing trying to run a half? Krista picked me up, since my car is still in the shop after someone cut off the catalytic converter from my car a week ago. Lovely.

She hadn't slept much either, nervous about her own challenge that day of running after a forced hiatus.

We traveled to the far flung burbs with Lindsay and Krista's husband, Scott, who radiates chill vibes, which I welcomed.

Parking, pee breals, nerves and we were at the back of the start line, speedy Lindsay already off closer to the start line with her amazing support crew. We were already sweating in the heat and we hadn't yet started running.

Krista and I ran three easy miles, with a few walk breaks. She saw her husband and decided she was good for the day..

I gulped hard internally, thinking, oh boy, how am I going to do 10 myself?

The next 10 miles were surprisingly good. It was ridiculously hot. Krista, joined now by her really sweet parents (who barely know me, but heartily cheered me on -- so kind) and her awesome hub, who yelled gustily "GO FUN MOM!"

Oh yeah, I have to explain that.

Months prior, when I signed up online for this race, I did it super fast before I could change my mind, and before I even told my husband. #badwife

I signed up so fast I didn't remember this weird question of "would you like to put a nickname on your race bib?" For some reason, I randomly picked "fun mom" which was printed on my bib in giant letters as "FUN MOM".

Good lord. Dork.

So, Scott loved yelling "go fun mom" at me, as did plenty of race spectators.

I mostly ran those miles, slow, concentrating to push off with step, to make sure my glutes and hamstrings were doing the work, and not lapsing into my plodding running in which the work is in the front of my legs and hips, to protect my newly healed hip.

It worked.

A miniature mimosa at mile 11 was helpful, too. I wanted to run backward for seconds, but decided to keep going.

Despite the heat, despite my undertraining, I crossed the finish line at 2:41, my personal worst time ever, even slower than halfs I've run pregnant and post-partum.

I was so happy to finish that I (mostly) didn't care about my time. "Fun moms" don't care about their race times, right?

Mostly I just felt grateful. I'm OK again.

No idea who this is, but I liked her shirt and sign
Some really great people. 

Dork alert
Fox River

Japanese garden -- so pretty

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Celebrate with me: I quit smoking 10 years ago!

I tried my first cigarette in junior high in the early 1980s. It was pretty gross. But I figured if I just stuck with it, I might like it some day.

When college came around, I figured, why not try it here and there. By the time I was 21 and old enough to go to bars, I'd also figured out that buying Virginia Slims meant no guy would bum cigarettes off of me. (It worked.)

At my first newspaper job, in a small town in Iowa, it seemed like everyone smoked. I bummed Merits off my editor.

I got pregnant and married in short order, and didn't adjust to marriage well. As I failed miserably as a wife, I began picking up packs of Marlboro Light 100s here and there. I saw my mom smoke my whole life, and it didn't seem like a big deal.

When my son was with his dad, I went out to bars and smoked and drank with fellow 20-year-olds.

At some point around here, I was addicted. I eventually smoked every day.

And I would do it for another 15 years, well into my days at the Chicago Sun-Times (we actually had a smoking room in our old building at 401 N. Wabash, it even grossed me out as a smoker).

As a reporter at the paper, I began to worry quietly about my lifestyle, at times. I had gained quite a bit of weight. I smoked. I used to be cute and wasn't anymore.

I like to figure out solutions to problems, so I went through Weight Watchers the year I married my husband, focusing on losing weight first, then learning to exercise regularly (it came slowly.)

Four years later, in 2007, I decided, after running a couple of 5Ks as a newbie runner, that I was going to run a whole marathon.

I can be impulsive.

I had tried several times to quit smoking up to that point -- cold turkey and Wellbutrin, mainly. The feeling of failure felt heavy. Why was I so weak?

I began marathon training, fretting that I was a fraud because I still smoked. One day, one of the heaviest smokers I'd ever met told me about a program at Northwestern Hospital. Eight weeks of weekly meetings, medication and support.

I was tired of feeling weak and tired of being ashamed. Addiction is like being enslaved. I wasn't born smoking. Why did I feel like I needed to do it to get through the day?

I went through the program, taking Chantix, the prescription medication. It gave me crazy, technicolor dreams. I don't think I had a good night's sleep for the few months I was on it.

It also turns off the pleasure receptors of the brain that LOVE nicotine. It made smoking not fun at all.

When you quit smoking -- and I would guess the same is true for alcohol or drug addiction -- you feel like you've lost something really important. You also feel like total shit for what seems like an eternity. I remember wondering if anyone had ever died from nicotine withdrawal. (No, don't think that's happened). Well, that, and the withdrawal from the ton of chemicals cigarette companies put in cigarettes to keep you hooked.

That last cigarette I had, 10 years ago tonight, I remember as clearly as I remember where I was when the police chased OJ Simpson on a California freeway.

I was in my kitchen, drinking a Cosmopolitan. (I really loved Sex and the City, including the signature show drink...) I smoked my last cigarette, and then took the half pack of Marlboro Lights that I had left and soaked them under the kitchen faucet.

I was done.

It's kind of amazing that it's been 10 years. Since then, I have since had two more children, changed jobs more than once, and run 10 marathons and 50Ks.

It would be easy to say something like, see, if I can kick my addiction, anyone can. But in a way, I had it easy. Right after I quit smoking, the state of Illinois banned indoor smoking, including bars. Few if any of my friends smoked anymore. I was seldom near a smoker at all.

I imagine for an alcoholic, it has to be a lot harder, since we live in a society that really dwells on drinking. If you decline a drink at a party, some people will assume you have a problem or you're pregnant. If you declined a cigarette, well, that's cool, then.

I sat next to a woman on the train today who reeked of cigarette smoke, and felt grateful that I got that help to kick smoking that I did. Not smug, just grateful.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The church of mowing

When I want to feel 18 again, I mow the lawn.

I'm going to exaggerate here, but only a little. I love mowing. And I love mowing when it's hot and humid.

I grew up an Air Force kid, our family domiciled in Omaha, Nebraska from the start of my eighth grade year at Logan Fontenelle Junior High until I graduated from Bellevue West High School in 1986.

Though the Deep South (not sure why I feel the need to capitalize that, but I do) is best known for torrid summers, summers in eastern Nebraska are hot, sticky affairs as well.

Compared with my current home of 20-plus years in Chicago, just a few miles from a nearly constant cooling Lake Michigan, nearly all weather in Nebraska is about extremes -- hotter, more humid, colder, snowier, and a heck of a lot more tornados than Chicago.

It was those summers in high school, as the oldest of an Air Force colonel and a stay-at-home mom, I got the marquis chores, including mowing. I grumbled, but I kind of liked it, too.

There was something so physically satisfying about pushing sweat out of my eyes, under a wicked and unforgiving sun, and seeing the lines of newly tamed and shortened grass emerge. Even as I was dive-bombed by a million mosquitoes and biting flies.

Back then, you had to put a grasscatcher on the mower -- if mulching mowers were around, we didn't have one -- so every so often I'd have to stop, turn it off and go empty the then-heavy, fragrant grass, especially if it was wet and clumping, seeing my fingertips quickly become stained green.

My shoulders would ache, though not terribly, and sweat would trickle down the front of my bra and soak the back of my shirt.

In those days, I didn't feel pretty or thin -- though now I look back and know that I was just fine. As I mowed then, I'm sure I thought about school -- hard AP classes, trying to keep up my mostly all-As, boys that I desperately liked but felt unworthy of. I'd also think about how many calories I must be burning, so that I wouldn't get fat.

Being a slightly neurotic teen-age girl is so fun, isn't it?

And yet I remember joy on those hot days. The satisfaction of a hard job well done. Feeling physically strong. It took years for me to discover that again, when I started running in late 30s and worked my way into long trail races.

My husband and I bought our house 15 years ago next month. He grew up mainly in apartments and was eager to have his own yard and mower. I figured since I mowed as a kid, I'd be the mower in the family. Conflict!

Yes, we both love to mow, but I usually don't insist on it. I sneak it in once in a while, when he's run to the store or sleeping or on the rare occasion that he's out, like he is this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

After a trip to the pool, I got the kids settled with Netflix and a snack, and went to the garage.

I got the hand hedge clippers and the hand edger out -- I never, ever use a power edger. Doing it by hand just feels like honest work.

Sweat poured in my eyes as usual,. I pulled up my shirt many times to wipe my drenched, hot face, not caring who might get a glimpse of my torso, which has housed three babies.

I edged carefully, my Air Force colonel's daughter self pleased with the neat lines that formed and tidily separated the lawn and the sidewalk.

I hand-clipped the areas where the mower won't reach (my husband usually skips that part and it drives me a little bananas).

And then I mowed, first moving the mower on the outside edges to form a frame for the lawn, then methodically mowing diagonally because it just looks awesome.

The sweat soaked my shirt and tricked down my bra, the sun bright and warm against my neck. I felt young again. Being 17 or 18 wasn't easy, but there were young moments of happiness, of feeling like aha, I have this.

I felt that again as I saw the manicured lines made by the mower, and stood and looked at the lawn when I was done.

I was happy.

I hand-trimmed overgrown grass around this ugly sewer thing we try to hide with flowers.

Neat and tidy edging. Love our backyard -- a nice little sanctuary in the city.

If you look hard, you might be able to see the diagonal mowing lines.