Friday, November 28, 2008

Me Vs. The Tree

Every year I say to myself I am not putting up the Christmas tree. Why? Because Christmas trees and perfectionism do not mix. Have you any idea how long it takes me to put the tree together, bend each limb to perfection and then hang each ornament on the branches perfectly?

A very long time.

You could say – lower your standards, Liz. Or, wait until you have kids. To that I say – exactly. Until I have children who will hang everything on the lower fourth of the tree because that as high as they can reach and who will hang things like cardboard picture frames bordered by macaroni noodles – until then I will cherish the final years of having an absolutely perfect and symmetrically decorated tree.

I need something perfect in my life. Trust me.

Where oh where is husband during this? He knows better. Besides I have never granted him permission to hang an ornament on the tree. That is my habitat – get out. So Chris went out to drink beer.

Meanwhile, I decided to decorate the entire house. This includes the mantle, the wreaths and the little red and green crap we women put everywhere else. Took me nearly 30 minutes to get everything to hang on the wreath. The only catch is that we cannot open the door until December 26th. Or else everything will fall right off.

Last but not least I haul the Christmas tree upstairs. This involves going into the boiler room, moving a box as tall as me but twice as wide and hoping that the piece of tape that has been on the box since 1973 still holds but it never does. In a moment of let-me-out-of-this-box NOW anxiety, pent up since last December 26th, the box explodes and scatters two dozen branches from the boiler room up the stairs into the living room.

You might ask – why do you have a tree circa 1973 when you were born in 1975? Well, this, my friends, is no ordinary tree. This is vintage Waterstraat Christmas tree. A hand-me-down. It was bequeathed to us about 6 years ago. How do I know it is a true Waterstraat collectible?


Who else would use a chopstick to hold together the entire top portion of the tree? Who?

This has Chris’ mom written all over it.

If you have never put up a Christmas tree, you may not know that perhaps the most complicated task is not bending 100 prickly itchy branches into place. Nor putting a web of messy lights on the tree. Nor completing the entire task without poking your eye out. No, the most complicated task is where you begin – the stand.

Assembling the stand should be easy. Four legs, four screws, one giant bowl like metal thing. A hole for the tree. Easy – right? Except if your stand does not have a hole for the tree. I think about this for a moment – where did the hole go? It’s like a Christmas tree loophole – no hole for the hole. And then I remember the old stand broke so we bought a new one. Last year I recall that I somehow rigged up a screwdriver to hold the tree upright. You see, it would fit in the stand but there was nothing keeping it from falling out from between the four screws (at this point my Jewish friends are totally lost while my Christian friends are like sister we feel your pain while the Pagans are just sitting there like – stupid tree). So the screw driver was rammed into the carpet as an anchor and then propped against the tree stand.

This year I couldn’t find the screw driver. So I needed a Plan B. Now, I’m not an engineer but I am crafty and a master of the Jimmy Rig. Immediately I start looking for something to rig the tree up with from the kitchen. A nutcracker, a peeler, a knife sharpener. All good options but none did the trick.

Frustration hits. There is a possibility that I have completely disheveled the living room for no good reason and there might not be a Christmas tree. I’m a little miffed. I don’t like messes and I hate leaving things half done. Plus what do I do with an unusable Christmas tree?

Hmmmph.

Finally I rig a way for the tree to stand invovling a water bottle and a dozen old towels (in theory it worked). Then as soon as I turn my back the entire thing tumbles.

That was it.

I throw it all back in the box, including the stand and leave it there. This is my silent protest. I will ignore the Christmas tree. This year there will be no Christmas tree. Christmas will go on without the stupid tree.

There.

I busy myself with cutting cucumbers when Chris walks in the door looking like maybe he made good friends with a few beers. He then walks over to the Christmas tree.

We are getting a new tree, I say.

What’s wrong with the tree? Here’s the thing about Chris – if it involves bikes, he can get a new one every year. If it involves anything else – he will use it until it dies. This is the man I once found standing in the bedroom with a pair of boxer shorts that had ripped in half like chaps. Like an elastic band with two cloth flaps, one in front, one in back. According to him, the shorts had ripped while getting dressed at the gym and for whatever reason he put them back on to wear home. That I can understand. Why they went straight into the laundry basket rather than the garbage can – that I do not understand.

*Chaps*

Knowing he has freakish endurance for using things until they literally fall off of his body, I knew I had to come up with a good excuse or else I would never get a new tree.

The tree does not fit in the stand.

He pulls the stand out of the box and says,
I’ll get it to fit in the stand.

Great. He went to the party and came back dressed as MacGuyver. He takes on this project with that chipper sound in his voice that signals – I will find a solution to this man challenge! Note that the voice is never that chipper for a mundane task like cleaning or what not. Enter a drill, hammer or possible trip to the Home Depot, oh he’s in. He’s totally in.

Whatever, I look at him with a good luck, go fix the stand. Do whatever you want because I’ve already made up my mind we are buying a new Christmas tree, one that was made in this millennium, one that was not made with lead paint, one that is not a fire hazard, one that does not contain those plastics you shouldn’t drink from. We are getting a healthy tree.
Meanwhile, I realize his face is lit up from the beer like the garland on my mantle.

This should be good.

A few minutes later I hear the sound of metal to metal. There is probably some rule against using tools when drunk but I’m also a big fan of natural consequences. Let him figure that rule out. Maybe not - the next thing I hear is drill on metal. I should probably check in on him down there. But no – he is, as Jenni Keil would say – in his man cave, a little shiny and using a power drill. Play on, man. Play on.

A few minutes later Chris walks upstairs with the stand in hand and promptly puts in the Christmas tree.

Done.

I’m slightly impressed but more ashamed. Here I am totally sober and could not find a way to prop up the tree yet he figures it out quickly with a power tool nonetheless. All while under the influence. This is why I sometimes wish I was born a man. How do they know how to do these things? This is useful. Power tools while drunk – sign me up. Looking pretty and possessing the power to always be right and always getting the last word – totally overrated and not very useful. Give me a Y chromosome, a beer and a drill. Now we’re talking.

There it was – the tree in the stand begging to be put together. Sigh. Now I really have to commit to doing it. I begin. First task involves matching colors on the branches to colors on the stand. Foolproof plan unless you are the fool that owns a Christmas tree from 1973. No colors any more! For all I know I have assembled the tree upside down.

Tree assembled and next – the lights. As I got to plug them in hoping it will be accompanied by the sound of angelic choir voices I see and hear….nothing.

NOTHING.
It’s dark.

SON OF A……………!

Chris asks what is wrong. THE F-IN LIGHTS DON’T WORK! He looks at me like pipe down woman, it is just a Christmas tree. Yes, yes I know. But at this rate it will be undecorated until next Christmas. I just want this project to be done. And I am finishing it tonight.

In a bizarre exchange of chores we would both rather not do, I agree to give BossBoss a bath if he agrees to go buy a new strand of lights. Done deal. He returns and finally I can decorate the tree.

It takes time. A lot of time. Each little ornament gets hung carefully in a well thought out location on the tree. Look closely at my tree. Closer. What do you see.


That’s right, I only permit snowmen/snow things to be hung on my tree. You should listen to me on this. You see, the safe holiday gift is giing someone an ornament. The problem, though, is that if your tree doesn’t have a theme you will end up with a bunch of ornaments you would be too embarrassed to hang on the back of your tree. Like a white porcelain bear with shamrocks all over it thinking to yourself….

But I’m not Irish?

Enter the snowman theme – safe, nondenominational nonholiday ornament that everyone knows about and everyone can celebrate. The winter season man made of snow. I win and have a whole tree filled with ornaments that can be hung on the front side of the tree.

So, there it is. The holiday tree. I would call it a Christmas tree but it’s not even December yet and considering it took me half a day to put it up I might just keep it around all year.

(and if you look close enough you might just see the chopstick in there that's holding up the top part of the tree...)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Today is turkey day.

I’m going to announce something that will probably be more shocking than my announcement that I do not like pizza. Prepare yourself. Get out your plastic pants. Because I’m announcing to the world that I’m not a big fan of Thanksgiving food.

(enter loud cries of un-American disbelief)

Let me clarify that. I enjoy the turkey – but would never go out of my way to eat or cook a turkey on any other day - but if we’re talking cranberries, potatoes and green beans count me out. Sweet potatoes covered in toasty ooey gooey marshmellows – yes. Mashed potatoes with butter and garlic – ick, yuck, barf, never, no way not if you told me it was mashed potato flavored ice cream.

And I never – EVER – eat anything called gravy.

Each year we make the annual pilgrimage (ok, the 5 minute drive) to Chris’ parent’s house for a huge Thanksgiving feast. There are roughly 500 Waterstraat’s that gather around the kitchen island (why spread out in the 3000 square foot home when you can pack yourselves around a 3 foot island) for fun, laughs and booze. Some Waterstraats imbibe a bit more than others (some meaning anyone with the word UNCLE before their name). Others need to be watched closely lest they vulture away the turkey before it makes it to a plate (not naming any of my sister-in-laws). Some just come for the pie (me). And others to play with the dogs (this year there will be 4 Waterstraat dogs collectively weighing less than 40 lbs).

When I got together with Chris, his family welcomed my mom and I into their Thanksgiving celebration. It was a warm welcome back to the true meaning of the day – giving thanks for all we have, bountiful harvest foods and family. It had been years since I experienced a real Thanksgiving holiday – or a real family. My family back in New York is huge. There are so many Repetti’s and Garbarino’s in Brooklyn that they took up an entire street (my mom claims this was the case on Veronica Place). But when we moved to the midwest, our big Italian family reduced to a small family of 3, 4 if you count my stepdad (who sometimes we wish we did not have to) and finally 5 if you count Cookie the crazy Dalmatian (it was the perfect dog for our family – 100% out of her mind and known to lunge at an entire wheel of brie cheese when no one was looking).

Chris’ family is totally normal. Not normal like the 50’s t.v. show normal but normal in an acceptably odd sort of way. And so they produce a very normal Thanksgiving holiday. Sort of. The day typically starts when most families have already eaten their meal. 5 pm. Some years 7 pm. Not so good because you know everyone has starved themselves all day, for the past few days just to go hog wild for one meal in a mess of meat, potatoes and gravy only to find themselves at 7 pm on Thanksgiving STILL not fed.


This year I heard a rumor that the meal is being catered. I will believe it when I see it and know, just KNOW, that Mr. Tom (Chris’ dad) will find some way to get his hands on the bird. And god help us if he does because it could be next year before it is completely carved up and served on a plate.

The rest of the dishes are standard Thanksgiving fare but what surprised me the first year was that everything contained bacon. Or it seemed that way. The stuffing contained bacon and since stuffing is really the only thing I like at Thanksgiving I was beside myself trying to pick out all of the bacon (another shocking announcement – I don’t like bacon).

The most exciting part of the meal was never the food nor the family itself. Like I said – pretty standard family and fare. What was unstandard was the annual clash of the grandmas in the kitchen. Now, Chris has two grandmas – he has a Grandma and he has a Popo. Grandma is his dad’s mother. Popo is his mom’s mother (popo is not only a ghetto code word for police but also Filipino for great aunt). Grandma and Popo would go at it in a grandma way of warming, serving, preparing and cleaning up while trying to establish who indeed was the grand matriarch. They agreed to disagree on just about everything and no one ever did emerge as the grand matriarch but I believe Popo asserted herself to the position by systematically finding a way to have all of the dishes washed before you could eat off of them. Not kidding. You’ll barely get your food down and realize that your plate has already been cleaned. Or your water glass emptied. Or that you missed the plates all together and now have to go straight for the pie (not usually a problem for me).

Which leads me to the pie. By the time we finish eating (about 9 pm), it’s time for pie. Actually it’s time for bed so this is the one family out there that doesn’t make a big deal of the pie. You’re lucky to see one pumpkin pie. The only way another pie makes it into the house is if my mom brings it. This threw me off the first year because in my family we like to think of nothing BUT the pie and scurry down the other food just to get to it quicker.

In the midst of all of this there is much beer and wine served. Last year there was also a certain Czechoslovakian liquor served much to everyone’s delight (or if you weren’t tone deaf, your dismay). Chris’ cousin is married to guy from Prague and his entire family joined us for Thanksgiving. What you don’t know about the Czechs is that they get much satisfaction from crashing a standard American holiday and force feeding this liquor to unsuspecting Americans. They, the Czechs, either know better or have better livers to process the liquor while the Americans…do not.

In a bizarre turn of events, some time after Chris’ 4 foot 10 tiny China doll mother even took a shot of the liquor, the Czechs broke out into song. Not silly song – we’re talking full on Von Trapp Family choir here. They had a melody and they harmonized. It was beautiful and we probably should have paid an entry fee to listen to them.

Enter the drunken Waterstraat’s. A bunch of Irish – Dutch – German mutts who have been overserved Czech liquor. Not only that but being American they are highly competitive. When the Czech’s started singing, the Waterstraat’s started scheming and decided for singing – it’s on. This could be very, very ugly. The Non-Waterstraat's (myself, my mom & Mike) hid off to the side, eyes wide in either embarrassment or disbelief. The Czech’s soon finished their chorus songs - fit enough to sing in front of the pope - while the Waterstraat’s gathered by the oven, one of them standing on a kitchen stool with a beer in her hand while they all piped out Irish drinking songs. There was no melody, no harmony and half of the lyrics were totally inappropriate for children under 10. It got worse before it got better yet still the Czech’s found it highly entertaining and might have even tried to sing – was it singing? – along.

This year there will be no Czechoslovakians. However, there will be two new boyfriends, a boyfriend's parents, two pregnant women, 4 small dogs and - it gets better - Chris' boss.


I don't know about you - but I'm getting there early just to watch the show - because you know it will be absolute chaos. Already is. We went over there on Wednesday night to grab the food processor. It was one of the stealth fly bys in and out of the parent house. You know, you sneak in so quick they won't even realize you're there. Chris makes it out in under 5 minutes with food processor in tow and mumbling the words what a zoo.

I asked what was going on and already he had stories of Popo complaining that Meredith wasn't stirring the flour fast enough, his mom about to make her 100th trip to Whole Foods for the day, I-Chi their little chihuahua stole a half pound of ham from the grocery bag and his dad - Mr. Tom - was complaining about the mail.

All this in 5 mintues?

Yes.

I ask Chris what the food processor is for and apparently he was put on pie (and he has to be the overachiever about it and make his own crust). He tells me that his mother assigned a task to everyone. Kevin is on the sweet potatoes, MegMeg & Chris on the mashed potatoes, Denise on the cranberries, my Chris on the pudding & pie, and me...oh crap. Wait a minute. I didn't even get a task. This is either a very bad (do they not like me?) or a very good thing. That or my husband as usual forgot. So I asked - what was my task? He looked at me and said...

WINE.

Now that's my kind of task. My job is wine and my purpose is pie. And as for the Waterstraat Thanksgiving, I’m showing up at 4:59. I’m going to go with a fully belly because it might be hours before we eat. I'm crossing my fingers about the catering because it means the one chance that not everything will contain bacon. I'm bringing my own plate becaues I'll be damned if it's clean before I finish eating and I need to have some place to put my pie.

Happy Thanksgiving to all...eat lots!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rainbow Glasses

Every once in awhile in life you need to pull the rainbow glasses out.

What are the rainbow glasses?

In my last career, I managed and developed youth education programs. One of my favorite programs each year was about spring rain and rainbows. Since you cannot predict when a rainbow will happen, we made instant rainbows by having the children put on rainbow glasses.

Rainbow glasses give every light a halo rainbow. They were cheap paper glasses (think 3-D) that we got from some scientific supply store. Every time the children put on the glasses, whatever they were looking at – no matter how ordinary – became an oooh and aaah.

For a buck twenty-five, they were one of the cheapest thrills we had.

When Marge and I started doing educator conferences, we would always do the rainbow glasses bit tied into a lesson about bees. Bees see things differently than we do. Their world is lit up like a neon runway leading down every flower towards pollen. What would it be like to see the world like a bee?

Enter the rainbow glasses. Grown adults would be begging for a chance to put them on. They’d get wide-eyed, put the glasses on and then look up at the standard and bland classroom lights with their mouths hanging open. It was like they had never seen a fluorescent light before. The same one that beats down on them every single day.

They had seen the same light in a different light – thanks to rainbow glasses making even the most mundane things exciting.

It became a running joke that whenever something was going wrong in the workplace all you had to do was dig in Liz’s file cabinet (and it was massive, it was a file cabinet with a testy drawer that I was convinced would one day eat me alive), look at file under RAINBOW and pull out the rainbow glasses. Put them on and see things differently.


One day a co-worker dared me to drive home while wearing the glasses. I didn’t live very far so it seemed safe enough. But be warned – you should never drive while wearing rainbow glasses. Sometimes seeing the world differently is good but not safe. Stoplights are red for a reason. They are not rainbow.

Someone once said the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Every once in awhile we are thrown something in life that forces us to look at things differently. Even when we are stuck seeing things the same way for a long time I believe something in life will happen to force us to see things differently.

This year I have seen things differently. I keep saying that if I walk away with nothing else, I walk away with perspective. The full spectrum of triathlon – success, failure and all the lands in between. Rainbow glasses this year have been a two way street. In one sense, they were put on me. I was racing the same race but it looked different. It became like driving home with the glasses on. I could see but it was awkward and involved a lot of risks. In another sense I had to put them on to see my ‘failures’ as something more than that. Failure is something each of us personally has to define. To me it’s only a failure if I fail to learn something from it. Sometimes the glasses helped me see color in what otherwise was a pretty dark day.

This past weekend, I pulled out the rainbow glasses - yet again. I had worked hard for my first pro Ironman race and made the most rookie of mistakes – not making it to the starting line. All of the miles and work – gone. Unnecessary. Could have just been training shorter or recovering sooner instead. In retrospect I can now list about a dozen things I did to set myself up to fail like that. The doctor prescribed antibiotics but disappointment in myself was the tougher pill to swallow last Tuesday.

I thought about lamenting over the whole thing but instead dug out the rainbow glasses and of course things looked differently. It wasn’t a failure, it was an opportunity. To learn and become smarter for next time. To get extra rest, to travel away with friends, to give my body much needed recovery. One door closed and another opened to a play day at the zoo, an incredible hike in the Grand Canyon and even more self-discovery.

If you feel stuck right now, confused, discouraged or disappointed with where you are at – maybe it’s time to pull out the rainbow glasses. They will open your eyes to all of the colors that already surround you. At times it’s hard to reconcile with disappointment or being some place that we are not satisfied but it will pass or perspective will change. Maybe it’s not glasses but just framing your mind different for a day, talking to a new friend or going for a walk to shake up the scenery. In any case – it’s a change. Force yourself to see things differently. Change your attitude. Put on the glasses and look ahead.

But whatever you do – don’t drive. Take my word for it that the glasses are best not worn when operating heavy machinery.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Notes From The Other Side

Monday was our last day in Phoenix.

Yesterday we met up mid-morning with Jennifer, her children, Elizabeth R. and the St. Louis Boys. After some bad coffee (please don't ask), we headed over to watch Ironman. At this point the pros and top age groupers were making their way to the run course. We watched them enter the bike dismount area – it’s amazing how many will fly into that chute as if the seconds they save will somehow justify the risk of taking out a volunteer or flying head over handlebars across the line when you go from 25 mph to stopping in about 10 feet. From there, they grabbed their special needs bags. Then they headed to the changing tent and on to the run course.

The race played out with much surprise and change along the way. It’s Ironman, it’s a long day, anything can happen and often does. We cheered loudly around the bridge by mile 7. To the participant that ran up to me, pointed and said you’re hot…

I love you. Can I call you up to hear that on really low days?

One thing I have noticed now in watching three Ironmans this year is how serious everyone looks. I’m not sure if they are that focused on the task at hand, that pained or just that wrapped up in their own thoughts. You can barely get a smile from the competitors let alone eye contact. It just seems so serious. I don’t know. Does it have to be that way? Do you think people are really working that hard or just didn’t realize how hard it would be? I don’t know. In any case, next time you do Ironman remember to breathe and smile - it can be hard but it's got to be fun. Or else why do it?


As the day wore on I wanted to give Jen’s kids get the Iron Sherpa award. Morgan busied herself by telling us everything she didn’t want to do while Graham hunted for roadside treasures. He picked up everything. EVERYTHING. Even the 10 foot of piping that Thomas picked up as a joke to see if Graham would go after it. He did. Graham should probably get a tetanus shot just to be safe. Seriously, though, these kids were hard core and very well behaved. They just sort of accepted that they were at the race and did their best to play anywhere they could. Chris also got in touch with his inner 6 year old by tossing acorns with Graham and helping him to hang from street scaffolding.

We didn’t do too much cheering because Jen’s kids got in their heads that they wanted to climb "A Mountain". It’s a short steep climb right near the race course. I think it ascends 1000 feet in a quarter mile? Maybe Jen and I said we wanted to climb it and maybe her kids overhead it and maybe Graham liked the idea while Morgan couldn’t stop talking about why she shouldn’t have to climb it. In any case we all went up and all enjoyed it. Even Morgan. She couldn’t stop talking about the rock that was painted pink near the top as we walked down.

Like any good kid we were promised cookies and ice cream after the climb. Chris bought six cookies. Jen and I ate the six cookies because it looked like Chris needed help. He didn’t. We just really wanted the cookies. I tantrummed about wearing uncomfortable shoes. And then we went back to Ironman.

At this point everyone in Ironman was on the run course somewhere in the middle of the 400 loops they had to run. We found a seat by the finish line and watched the competitors roll in around the 8:30 to 10:15 range. Typical Ironman finish stuff. People walking, sprinting, shuffling. You see it all. Doesn’t matter if you are a pro or age grouper – 8+ hours is a long day to do anything. And it shows.

Once Jerome crossed the line, Jen and Elizabeth left while Chris, Thomas and I headed out to find Cat and Molly. I got a cryptic text from Cat saying “we’re under the bridge” which made me laugh. There had to be over ten bridges near the lake! Before we found out which bridge, we watched the meat of Ironman run by for awhile right at the junction where they were handing out glow necklaces. What was interesting was that with some athletes as soon as they were handed the glow necklace they started to walk. It almost seemed like a symbol or permission for them to start shutting down. Things were really mixed up on the course at this point – you couldn’t tell who was on loop 70 or just starting. Some were hauling ass, some were walking, others were still in the race but stopped alongside the course talking to their family.

Anything goes.

Watch a few Ironmans and no matter where you are or who you are watching you start to see a lot of the same things. There is a look to the eyes at Ironman. It is an empty, vacant look that reflects back at you what is probably a mix of horror, pain and survivalism wherever they are on the course. In other words, you get a lot of blank stares. You call out their names and it’s like they don’t remember who they are. It’s the vacuous look of Ironman. I’ve seen it three times this year and each time is looks as hollow and lost as the next time.

You also see the frustration and discomfort of Ironman. I watched a woman grab a glow necklace, try to put it around her neck, failed, try to put it around her waist then realizing she had to hold the necklace but needed to rip something ANYTHING off at that point she threw her Fuel Belt and shouted “this thing is so damn uncomfortable!” Right after this Chris discovered his own Graham Harrison Roadside Treasure along the course - a different Fuel Belt. He was like - look at what I found! And Thomas and I were like - dude, DUDE! Put that thing down! Have you any idea what that Fuel Belt has seen or where it has been!?


ICK!

After Chris abandoned his treasure (reluctantly), we watched more of Ironman go by. Some people were cruising while others looked trapped in their worst day. I believe someone that Molly saw said it best when he ran by and said “THIS IS HARD!” Yes! It is hard. I’m not sure what people think but Ironman is fucking hard. It’s not just a swim bike and run. It’s an entire day doing something. When was the last time you spent 12+ hours sweating and moving? Or the last time you ate all of your meals for a day out of a package or in liquid form. Or pooped your pants. Or the last time you found yourself trapped in your own head 16 more miles to run. You find yourself stripped away. You find out what you really think about yourself.

Shortly before we found Cat I had a freak out. Chris had been ringing the cowbell for about a day and finally I ripped it out of his hands and threw it in the grass. The bell laid sadly there and upon closer inspection the ringer had broken off the bell. We all had a good laugh about that. But too soon because once we found Cat she was ringing another cowbell, singing and dancing. I can’t believe the crowd around her was still there – several hours of that would have made me gone mad long ago.

Around 8 pm when we could no longer listen to cowbell we called it a day.

We woke up this morning for some coffee and once again looked up at a blue sky and sun. Thomas said they see 340 days a year of sunshine. Imagine that! After coffee, we sat around for a bit before deciding to climb Camelback. It’s not a long climb but you can get working up it. At the top it rewards with view of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and overlooks an area appropriately named Paradise Valley. You need only be a multi millionaire to live there in your massive home.

And now it is back to Chicago. Of course I am a little sad. I like the concept of home, it just needs to happen in another place. Maybe one day. Until then I’ll face the cold and flip through Arizona pictures to warm me.


Until my next trip. Which is in a little more than a week. Where in the world will e.l.f. go next? I'll give you a few hints: it's not as cold as Chicago but I might not see the sun yet in exchange I will be surrounded by lots and lots of coffee.

I can't wait!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Canyon Grand

Pre-coffee Liz:


Post coffee Liz:


As you can see, once I had my coffee the day got off to a good start. Departed Phoenix by 7 am heading towards the Grand Canyon. Perhaps it's on your life list of things to do. It's always been on mine. Set out to marvel at the impressive force and beauty of a canyon carved by time. Luckily Thomas and Chris agreed - it was something we simply had to do.

What would you see if you drove through the wilderness of your mind? Imagine yourself in the backseat of a car at 85 mph looking behind at your life. Mountains of dusty memories weathered by time rolling across a desert-like landscape. I spent hours looking out the back window thinking thoughts about life. At some point I turned my eyes forward to see the road continues upward into the greenness of what is to come. Or, the greenness that led upwards to Flagstaff.

At 7,000 feet we arrived in Flagstaff. The morning was just awakening, the air thin and crisp. A cup of coffee at Late For The Train before we took our time enjoying a few shops.



Thomas explains how everything looks better with Beer Goggles.



Chris likes life shaken not stirred.


And I've got bling-bling in my eyes.


As you can see, we enjoyed playing dress up at a few stores (which also happened to sell cool hats - above - and sunglasses).

Even after a short visit in the town I have decided you could leave me in Flagstaff with a pair of running shoes and pick me up in the next life. Good coffee, unique shops and a runner's paradise where world class runners call Flagstaff their training ground. Incredible trail systems, peaks and altitude. We visited A Runner's High and as we exited the car Thomas told us all to quickly make up new 10K PRs because we were in a real runner's town. I've never been more proud to have run a 32 minute 10K.

Onward from Flagstaff towards the Grand Canyon. Our destination - the South Kaibab Trail. A trail that descended from the South Rim to the Colorado River and eventually connects to the North Rim. We had about 4 hours to make the most of our time so we set out towards the trail.

The canyon itself is something that words cannot describe. I could paint a picture of layers of sandy rocks lined with burnt reds and rusty browns set against the most beautiful expanse of blue sky. Or I could just show you the pictures themselves.


In our time on the trail we descended 2500 feet in 3 miles through a series of steep switchbacks with sandy steps and rocks. Descending is always more difficult than climbing. Each step was careful, slow and awkward. On one side you could see the steep drop off to the canyon below. In front was rock or sand. There was nothing next to us but scrub or rock to hold. And you can't really hold either.

But the vistas were spectacular and the quiet of the canyon was so full that it completely emptied my mind. It was the essence of the word quietude. Or even solitude. I spend most days alone surrounded by a quiet that numbs you with its loneliness, a quiet you want to fill. The quiet in the canyon was stimulating. As soon as my mind emptied it filled with words that connected into clear thoughts. Each step brought clarity. The canyon was big but I was not alone - I felt connected to something bigger than me, something purposeful.


Thomas and Chris descended much quicker and for once I enjoyed the process of taking my time. Of stopping to take in view. Of breathing in the clean air. Of getting lost in my own thoughts. In a place like this you find perspective. Thoughts that loosely scattered in your mind for months weave together into something meaningful.
Meaning. Purpose. What we do with our time and ourselves - and why. For each answer I asked myself another question. 7000 feet, 6000, 5000, each foot I descended further into what felt like the basement of my mind. As I descended further, things became more clear. It is easy in life to get so caught up in the selfish pursuit of ourselves. We make our problems bigger than they are and place too much importance on ourselves. It is easy to feel too big. When you put yourself into a natural setting you realize how small you are. The complication of your problems or life become small compared to the immensity and beauty of what surrounds you.


Today I reconnected with the joy of being outside. In doing so, I finally got outside the frustrations of my inside world. Sometimes you find yourself circling in yourself for so long that you cannot see a way out. Today it was clear - one step forward, one step closer to finding my way. Each step made sense. Hikes like this no matter how painful or hard are refreshing. They fill me with a sense of renewal and clarity of thought. They remind me I need to do this more often for peace of mind.


Time and circumstance have an interesting way of finding each other when you need them the most. I found myself today in the Grand Canyon - something I had always wanted to do but had no plans of doing any time soon. But today there I was. As athletes we worry so much about time. Sometimes it's not about time - it's about the timing. You will find yourself in the right place at the right time. What will you do when you are there? Will you be brave enough to descend into yourself to find your way out? So many things did I find today.



From the mesa before Skeleton Point, we turned back towards the butte and up towards Cedar Ridge. You can see how far we descended - from the top of that mountain down to this mesa. And then we had to climb back up. The climb up was harder but quicker. Yet even our fitness did not prevent the burn in the quads nor the wheezing as you gain altitude. Finally at the top I was tired. A good tired - a feeling that was complete.

I felt complete today. It was something I had not felt in quite some time. But today the timing was right. I looked at life inside what could have been the canyon of my mind and it was...grand.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Wild Ticket

It’s lunch time. A giant salad with lots of colors and my new favorite treat (introduced to me by Sherpa Thomas)…

Raw brownies

Not kidding. These things are actually good. Here’s the recipe:

1 c medjool dates
1/2 c chopped pecans
1/4 c cocoa powder
1 TBSP coconut oil
Vanilla extract
1/2 c dried cranberries or chopped cherries

Food process the first four ingredients, add the cranberries and spread into a pan. There you go – healthy and raw brownies! Sure, it doesn’t replace the ooey gooey warmth of baked brownies fresh out of the oven but these are a pretty good substitute.

It’s been a fun day. It started with an early trip to Tempe Town Lake for the “Gatorade” swim. Hell no I didn’t swim! But Chris did. I “spectated” and watched the Ironman madness go by. It was quite windy this morning which made for very choppy water. The lake is very shallow to begin with so add some gusty winds and you get lots of chop. And the water is cold.

Anyways, watching the madness I will admit I had not one iota of Ironman regret. In fact, I was relieved because it just seemed cold, windy and…conditions making for a long day. And if I see one more athlete running or swimming in compression socks I will scream.

Afterwards we had some tasty coffee at the Coffee Plantation. I suggested a trip to the zoo for the afternoon. I believe in life when you start acting your age, you start looking your age. Allow yourself opportunities to play like a child to keep your mind young and your outlook fresh. And that is why I insisted we buy not just an entry ticket to the zoo but a Wild Ticket.


I am convinced that wearing a Wild Ticket bracelet is 100 times cooler than wearing an Ironman bracelet. I believe it was on the carousel that Chris said, “this is so much better than Iroman, isn’t it?”

I KNOW!

The zoo was awesome. First up we visited the sting rays. We actually got to touch and feed them! I’ve never done that before. Check it out. Some of them were huge!Then we saw the giraffes, wildebeests, baboons, tigers, meerkats.


And then...THE CAMEL RIDE!


Very exciting! I’m on top of a camel! It felt very high and sitting on the hump was not comfortable but it was a good ride.

We visited Monkey Village. There were a bunch of squirrel monkeys that were up close to us. Squirrel monkeys are fast moving and vocalize often. The zookeepers use squirt bottles to keep the monkeys away from the people (or really the people away from the monkeys). Chris said he was going to start using a squirt bottle at home to keep me quiet!


We went to the petting zoo next. It was actually a goat grooming pen. I groomed this goat. And apparently did not read the sign that said to leave the goat alone if they’re trying to get away from you because the goat kept walking and I kept following.


Then I completed the ritualistic grooming of the Sherpa.


The last exciting thing was the carousel ride. I got scolded by the attendant for entering the gate without her permission (my bad) and then chose the big bunny to ride.


Thomas took a ride on the cheetah. He tried to buckle himself in with the safety belt but it wouldn’t fit. I tried too and my belt wouldn’t fit and we decided it’s because it is the off season after all. Thomas tried to act like he was too cool for the cheetah but look at his face - that is the face of a grown man enjoying himself on a child's ride.


Chris chose…the hummingbird. Of all the masculine animals available – alligators, bears, lions, my husband chooses a tiny bird. I call this big man on tiny bird.


Regardless he loved the freakin’ ride. And then about 2 minutes into it told me he was getting motion sick.

No trip to the zoo is complete without a visit to the gift shop and a ceremonial tantrum. No one did tantrum but I really wanted to buy a stuffed monkey so does that count? And as we exited - a lesson learned for life. If you have to choose between general entry or wild ticket, it's worth the extra money. Get the wild ticket!

Now it’s time for a raw brownie and then later we will go out for dinner with friends. Tomorrow we are going to head up to a very large hole in the ground - the majestic Grand Canyon. I've never been there and I can't wait.
A little more sun, a lot less training...I could get used to this.

Land of the Sun

Reporting here from sunny Phoenix.

The trip out west was a long one. Up at 2:45 am, at O’Hare by 3:45 am, walking to get coffee by 4:00 am, realizing nothing is open in O’Hare before 5 am….

Enter momentary meltdown.

Nothing open. No food, no water, no coffee until touchdown in Phoenix at 8:30 am. Darted off that plane straight to…coffee.

Found Sherpa Thomas shortly thereafter. We people watched and talked until Chris arrived a few hours later. Then we all headed down to Tucson to visit our mothership, Trisports.com. They’ve been generous sponsors of Thomas, Chris and myself for several years now. Finally met Kim, the face behind the emails. Toured the facility. If you’re looking for top notch service and selection, head to their store. As far as triathlon shopping experiences go it was like walking through the Millenium Falcon. It doesn’t get much better than that.



I insisted on taking a hike. The day was beautiful and we had spent too much time inside. We headed out to Sabino Canyon to walk some of the trails. There is something about the landscape of the southwest that inspires. It was immensely quiet. The green of the cacti, blue of the sky, tan of the sand – it is very earthly and confident the way it all stands.



The walk was very leisurely and enjoyable. Not sure my heart rate cracked the top of zone 1. We did see some crows heckling an owl, a deer and a lizard. Thomas jumped like a little girl when some bug tried to mate with his head. Chris got a cactus needle stuck in his knee. I wanted to see a bobcat. We proved that 3 people hooked on technology have difficulty reading 1 real paper map.

Afterwards, we headed back to Phoenix but first a stop at the grocery store. To Chris’ dismay, we loaded up on lots of good food. I’m on a big pomegranate kick lately. If you haven’t tried one, they are in season and on sale right now so give it a go. They are messy to open and take about 5 minutes to pick all of the seeds out but if they are ripe you won’t be disappointed.

Today is here now – Friday. Thomas almost had a fit because he said it looked like I was wearing one compression sock. “There is no way, woman.” For the record, I had two on but one leg tucked under my butt. I’m planning on some coffee soon and they it’s time to get outside.

I’m sure we’ll head to the swim at the race site for Chris – not me! I’m in the off season and honestly it feels good to be done. The minute I knew I was sick there was no question – DONE. The hardest part about Ironman is not the training – it’s arriving at the start line uninjured and healthy. Well, I didn’t get there. That’s ok because there will be more in the future and now my body can rest. Listening to our bodies is not always the easy thing to do but at a certain point it is what you have to do.

I’m not sure what else we will do today. Chris wants to go tequila sampling and got a head start on that last night. I just checked in on him - he is awake but has really bad bed head. While he survived the tequila shots they seem to have messed up his hair. I'm hoping today we do something outside – sunny and 86 degrees - need to take advantage of that while I can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Game Over

This just in:

There will be no Ironman.

This past week I didn’t feel like me. After the race I focused on recovery by doing very little activity, sleeping lots, eating well, sitting around. But something didn’t feel right. The soreness shook out of my legs after a few days but I couldn’t shake the headache and fatigue.

By Saturday I was doubting the race. Legs felt good but otherwise all I could feel was lethargy. I thought maybe it was the taper, hormones (cursed), coffee (sorry), the weather (damn 23 degrees!), my dog (shedding?). I blamed anything I could just so it would make sense.

When it didn’t make sense, I asked John, another pro triathlete. What’s going on with me? He said it was the taper, some overtraining, ordered me to sit on the couch all day watching Ironman DVDs while listening to death metal.

As much as I love Master of Puppets, it didn’t help. The headache wouldn’t go away. I thought I should drink more water, eat better, drink more coffee, less coffee, get more sleep, cut back on sleep, get out of the house, lay on the couch. Nothing helped.

So instead I drank wine and ate ice cream on Saturday.

No dice.

On Monday it was still there. And getting worse. I even took Advil. It didn’t go away. I went to bed then I woke up. Still there. Maybe I’m stressed. But the funny thing is that I wasn’t. In fact it worried me – no one doing an Ironman should be this apathetic. They should be making lists and putting things in baggies. There is something wrong with me. My head is foggy. I can't focus. What's going on?

With no answer in sight, I needed someone or something to blame. So I blamed Rachel Ross:

I’ve caught your headache, now send me your meds.

She didn’t write back.

By Monday night I had enough. My head still hurt and I didn’t feel like doing anything. Now seriously what the f_ck. I thought about all the good training I did for Ironman. How I dragged through Sherpa Thomas 108 miles on the Queen K. The long run in the rain. All of that – to waste? Really? That makes me sad. But at the same time I could not see how I would get through 140.6 mile feeling like crap. Maybe I’m overthinking it. So I talked to Jessi. She said I sounded tired. Maybe she was right. Maybe I’m just done with the long season. Maybe I’ve finally killed my endocrine system and it’s revolting against myself.

Sigh.

Then came Tuesday. I noticed that Rob, of my Clearwater travels infamy, had written something on his facebook update. All week he had been writing about being hit by a large truck, a small baseball bat, a bunch of Brownies wielding burnt bacon and finally about considering a sinus-ectomy.

Wait a minute……

Sinuses

Finally, an answer AND someone to blame:

ROB! I know he snotted in my coffee when I wasn’t looking! I know he was licking my bicycle seat!

Really though, I’m not blaming Rob. (well maybe I am, and maybe Rob I’m going to put the price of my sinuses on your tab which you should probably pay up because it’s getting really big) And I seriously hope he didn’t lick my bicycle seat. Dude I peed on it. But back to the headache and fatigue. It’s the sinuses, it’s got to be. I’m not chronically fatigued. I’m not overtrained. No amount of Master of Puppets will clear this up. I’m infected. Sure enough I went to the doctor and it was confirmed. She tried to torture me by having me lower my head between my legs – not so fun when you got full sinuses. So I was given meds.

Meds make you better right? Well enough to do an Ironman? A quick consult with Dr. Noda, “doing Ironman on meds is not a good idea, right?” – to which he replied “affirmative.”

At least that explains it. And leaves me somewhat relieved. Because now I can be done. Of course all of the training I did will go nowhere (somewhere Sherpa Thomas is screaming) but at least it was good memories. So I guess I have officially begun my off season. Which I will kick off with a trip to Phoenix! And you know what this means: pack the trucker hat because this has just turned into my season ending SPECTATHLON!

When I told Sherpa Thomas that we would still be heading his way he cooperated nicely. His words went something like this:

Now I don’t have to get up at 3 am for some stupid pre-race meal and stand on my feet all damn day!

(for the record – I do not wake up at 3 am for breakfast, 4 am is more like it)

And followed with:

And another good thing: at least you won’t be too bitchy!

(don’t speak so fast, I can pack my angry eyes and turn into pre-race Liz even without a race ahead)

In other words, he cannot wait to see us.

It’s 8 pm and my headache is finally starting to back off a little. Tomorrow I shall pack. And let me tell you when you don’t have a 140.6 mile race to do you can pack very light. I leave for Phoenix on Thursday. No bike, no goggles. A pair of walking shoes. A hobo stick with a little kerchief tied on the end with my personal belongings...for a weekend in the sun but without an Ironman.

Hmmph. I’m trying to see the negative in this but a weekend in 86 and sunny sounds pretty positive to me.

Plus the recovery time is much quicker.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Strange Days

Strange things are afoot around our house.

It’s Chris. I think there’s something wrong.

It started about two weeks ago. One restless post-Ironman recovering husband announced he would tackle “the list”. “The list” that I made about two weeks earlier knowing I had about a two week window of time where I could safely request the husband to do the laundry list of things needing fixing, cleaning or rebuilding around the house. Such as; clean light above toilet, clean out clothes in closet, paint stairwell, clean windows.

One day he woke up and said “where is that list?” I was ready. I think I pulled the list out from under my pillow like I a little kid waiting to tell Santa what she wanted this year. I’ve been working on this list Santa. For a long, long time. Chris asked me to talk him through the list and I carefully pointed out that the last few items (such as put in wood floors, clean windows) were really my pie in the sky household dreams. I didn’t expect them to get done but just thought I would throw them out there.

No sooner is Chris cleaning the windows. Which happened to be one of my housekeeping pie in the sky dreams. And what I had in mind was someone cleaning the windowsills and inside glass. What Chris had in mind involved ladders, removing all the windows and power washing.


I couldn’t believe it but I didn’t want to interrupt it. So I went out with my mom. I got into her car and explained that Chris was cleaning the windows. She looked at me like WTF? I said, I know that is why I am leaving because he’s got it in his head that he’s cleaning the windows. I waited three years for those windows to be cleaned and hell if I’m going to get in the way.

I’m not sure what happened last weekend because I wasn’t around. But this weekend, it recurred Saturday. Early. Chris was carrying the steam cleaner (BEST wedding present ever) from the spare bedroom to the basement. Funny story – it was upstairs because the other night Boss decided to bark at Chris in bed which Chris interpreted as Boss being a naughty dog but Boss really meant hey knucklehead I need to take a pee. Here. Now. 10 pm – steam cleaning of pee from carpet. There. Now.

The next thing I know he’s steam cleaning the basement carpet. This comes as a huge surprise because there was no precursor. In other words, no death by nagging wife. No – please do this but you don’t have a choice so do it now. Moved all the furniture, bikes and cleaned the carpet on his own.

As if that wasn’t strange enough, he then went upstairs on a cleaning binge. He cleaned out those boxes. You know the ones? The one that he keeps moving from house to house. The ones you are secretly begging him in your mind to clean out already. Those. He cleaned them out.

It got better. Next up, he is touching semifrozen meat. Concocting a secret recipe to make beef stew. From scratch. Actually cooked the beef then threw it into the...I can’t believe, no he didn’t just pull this out…the crock pot. There is a meal cooking in the crock pot.

So when I half joking/half not told him to bake rosemary bread from scratch (seriously at this point why not), he said “ok” and made two loaves. Why, how, really it was that easy? The next day in an effort to perfect the recipe, he made the bread again.

Something is clearly going on here. This is not normal behavior. I would blame a taper but he hasn’t been training. I would blame an Ironman but it was a month ago. I would say he’s nesting but men cannot have babies.

I would have to dig deeper for a diagnosis.

But just as I started…I noticed he was emptying the dishwasher. This comes after I found him in the kitchen this morning sharpening knives.

Sharpening the knives? Who does stuff like that?

I want to ask him what is going on but I also don’t want to interrupt his streak. I can’t get in the way. What if I act like this is totally abnormal (which it is) and he just abandons ship. Goes back to playing Nintendo for most of the day.

It didn’t happen if there aren’t pictures, right? Well here you go. I snapped this one and told him I needed proof of this domestic streak. As he stood there with whisk in hand he said “I just like to cook, ok?”


Can you see the speed with which he is whisking?

Yesterday morning I also found him washing dishes in the sink. He made pancakes. But his idea of cleaning the dishes was kind of a disturbing sight.

What are you doing? I asked

He called it cleaning. I called it caressing the glass bowl. Nobody cleans dishes like that. But Chris does. He used two separate scrubby sponges and then does something with his hands to get the bowl clean. It was too careful, too clean. Something's just not right here.

I’m going to Home Depot to get the part to fix the sink.

At this point I’m holding my mouth closed. I’ve seen a lot of strange things in my life but this takes the cake. And by the way do you think he would mind baking me a cake? Because I’ve got a sweet tooth (mouth full) that can’t wait until after Ironman. Someone tells me it’s overtraining. I tell him it can’t be overtraining because I haven’t been training. But then again maybe they're right. I am so over training. And ready to move on to cake. Every day.

Secretly in my head I am making a list. I have about 20 minutes before he returns from Home Depot to fire off another thing. Would you mind washing the floor? What do you think about giving the dog a bath? How about painting my toenails, I’ll even let you choose the color? And would you consider putting away the clothes?

Sure thing.

He didn’t say that because he went off to swim because it's all he can do right now. He calls it an injury, I call it recovery. Right now his leg “hurts”. I tell him you just did Ironman 4 weeks ago, give your leg permission to hurt. Along with your arms, your feet and your head. Everyone tries to rush recovery. I tell him the more hurt you go into the race the more you’ll hurt on the other side. His body was basically one big niggle going in and now on the other side the niggles are niggling their way out. Slowly.

I can tell he isn’t satisfied with recovery and that he right now is overflowing with oodles of energy. Swimming just isn’t cutting it. I can see this in his face.

So tomorrow I plan to make a suggestion: find yourself an apron boy and clean something. Burn off that excess energy on your hands and knees with a toothbrush. And then get to work on my nails.

Let's keep this domestic streak going as long as we can.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Clucky!

Look what I found!



Do you know who this is? Have you any idea?

This is Clucky. My lucky chicken!

A few months ago I searched – fruitlessly – for Clucky at my mom’s house. Boxes of toys circa late 1970s containing Fisher-Price little people, barnyard animals and furniture. Back when you could still find toys small enough to choke on (though I never did).

Anyways, I had written about Clucky on my blog which prompted a full on APB search in mom’s basement. When I could not find him, I got kind of sad. A relic from my past as both a child and a runner was gone.

Fast forward to Saturday. I was sitting around trying not to be taken hold of the half Ironman recovery/Ironman taper blues. Motivation to do triathlon = all time low. Motivation to dress Boss up in stuffed monkey clothes = all time high!


Off to the bedroom we went where I have a drawer filled with clothes for Mr. Pickles. Mr. Pickles is my stuffed monkey. He travels places. He also likes to wear clothes from Build-A-Bear.

Maturity is highly overrated.

I put Boss on the bed while digging through the drawer. To my surprise I found all kinds of fun stuff! Finger puppets, lederhosen (I totally forgot that a trip to Germany for Chris meant searching all over Heidelburg for lederhosen small enough to fit a stuffed monkey) and….

What is this?

Boss waits patiently to get dressed…

Could it be?

Clucky!

I couldn’t believe it! He was found. Boss get off the bed, dress up time is over. I’ve got a new toy! THIS IS A SIGN for sure! Of what, I don’t know. But it means something! I ran downstairs shouting Chris, look what I found! Clucky!

Chris asked if I was going to put him back in my car. What? Wait – yes! Then it hit me. Clucky was last affixed to the dashboard of my first car – a Mazda Protégé. All that crusty gunk around his bottom was gum. In fact, I remember the day I took the gum out of my mouth, put it on Clucky and forever stuck him to the dashboard. When I sold the car, I took Clucky off and somehow he ended up in the toy drawer.

Clucky used to be on a string that I would wear around my neck on the bus trips to cross country meets. That along with a Three Musketeers bar I would keep inside of a plastic Sesame Street lunchbox where I had taped motivational quotes clipped from magazines. What can I say. I thought that top performance was an elusive mystery requiring a plastic chicken, a lunchbox and a candy bar.

Not much has changed.

Everyone knew Clucky. He was lucky. How did I know? Well, I kept getting better and better and it had to be because of the chicken. Even if it wasn’t, who would tempt fate enough to find out?

I remember having breakthroughs as a cross country runner. The first time I averaged 6:20 miles. The time I cracked the top 10 on the race day where it rained. I cried as I came through the finish chute and realized that having stuck it out longer than anyone else in nasty conditions made me a champ that day. A lesson I still go back to. My last meet as a senior where I was right on first place’s tail thinking to myself – why won’t she let me win! This is my last race just let me win! Realizing at that time that you have to really want something to win – you can’t expect someone to give it to you.

These are the memories that Clucky holds. He is a plastic chicken but symbolizes achievement, success, friendship and hope. He reminds me of good things I did as an athlete but also reminds me, reluctantly, of my flaws. Of not surging for first place. Of never accepting the push to the varsity team because I was too scared. Lessons learned.

Today I was feeling low. I am tired and ready to be done with triathlon. I have sat on the (barnyard) fence of maybe I shouldn’t even do Ironman. I want to skip my workouts today and just rest. I know I have worked hard but I am also ready to put 2008 behind and look ahead.

I am still not decided about today. But I have decided that on race day I will put Clucky in my bento box. He reminds me of good things. And maybe on the run I will hold him in my hand. He’s been running with me since I was 15 years old. What’s one more marathon?

As a side note – I just realized Clucky is not a boy. He is a hen. Please don’t spoil it for me by telling me boys cannot be hens. There are some things Clucky and I do not need to know.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

i...Am Scared By My Phone

Presenting…..

(enter angelic choir sound from above)



My new phone.

Look at this. No really, look at this thing. Did you know it has the ability to start my car, bake warm pumpkin bread and make a hot cup of coffee? And for no extra fee it will also make your bed?

Did you know?

Neither did I. More importantly, if it can do that I have no idea how to make it happen because there are just too many features and buttons on this phone!

(it's important to note that Boss really likes this phone, I can tell because he's doing that little thing where he sits on his butt and claps his paws together - that means "me likey")

Finally I have caved and joined the dark side. The side of being forever connected with no excuse of – I wasn’t around my computer today. There’s no internet connection. I was on vacation and needed a break.

No excuse now. I’m on. I’m connected. It’s like I’m right there with you in your living room.

AH! Did you feel that? I just poked you in the side.

This phone is a necessary evil. I get emails. Lots of emails. Sometimes I am away from my laptop all day, come back and find this insane email explosion in my inbox. Workout notifications, athlete confessionals, questions and beloved spam from filtering 3 email addresses into one account. I had to turn off the Facebook notifications just to stop more of the madness. Or at least slow it down.

I heard about this iPhone thing a few weeks ago. Jen Harrison, she who didn’t even know how to retrieve voicemails from her cell phone, caved and got one. Soon enough she was firing off emails from it. And if Miss Daisy can pick it up that quickly, well, I considered that…

HOPE.

When I make a decision I usually act quick. No need to stew about something and make a list of the pros and cons. Just do it already. Git R Done. Good as done it was. Wednesday night I headed over to the Apple store to pick up my new phone.

It seemed easy. Too easy. You mean you just steal a few bits of personal information from me and it’s done? That’s it? What about Verizon. Won’t they be pissed off? Should I send them a card? All I know is that right now I have two phones, one that might work but shouldn’t work and one that if it rings I would have no idea how to pick it up.

The clerk handed over the phone to me and that was it. That was it? Isn’t there a tutorial? Shouldn’t someone show me at least how to turn it on. Oh no! It is on and it’s already chirping. What the hell does that mean!?

On the way home I announced to Chris that the end of his wife as he knows her has begun. The little attention he already gets (sharing attention with the dog) has just become smaller. My attention span has just decreased about 99.9 percent and any hope of having a serious conversation without me looking out the corner of my eye at the phone – that just died.

He seemed ok with this saying you need this Liz, this will make things easier.

I didn’t pay him to say that. But I did pay a damn lot for the phone so I would expect husband compliance is just part of the package deal!

On the way home I figured out how to sync my email. No sooner did it start chiming to signify new message. No sooner did I learn how to turn that silly noise off. And every other noise. Just a ring tone. And I chose some that sounded like dueling banjos that I really should be dancing to.

By the way – did I mention that the other night Chris and I were revisiting our high school square dancing days in the kitchen? Did anyone else have to suffer through several years of square dancing? If so, I challenge you to a dance off of promenade, bend the line, rip and snort, do-si-do, aleman left with an aleman right. We practiced them all.

Back to the phone. Do you see – it’s happening. My attention span. Going, going, GONE. Too much information, too quick, too many buttons, switch it up, shared attention. I probably should start taking meds just in case.

Next up – applications. I heard about these applications. So I checked out the store online. Of course I added Facebook – fun. Then I added Map My Ride – even more fun. Then I got overwhelmed. I’m not paying for anything else but still there were so many free apps I didn’t know where to start.

Good thing I have friends! Because they suggested all sorts of useful things like the Light Saber application. I checked it out – wondering if it was maybe some type of useful light that would help me find dropped keys in the car or items in my tent on Ragbrai. No, nothing like that. It’s an application that turns your phone into a light saber. Nothing shouts Star Wars dork like Your phone = Light Saber. Complete with sound effects. Really? Where would I need that? Then I remembered that most of my friends work office jobs. If I worked in an office again and had to sit through a Wednesday weekly Death By Meeting I would totally want that.

Today I entered my contacts into the phone. That was painstakingly long and made me rethink my contact list. The good news is that friends and family made it on the list. The bad news is that should I need a doctors appointment I would not know who to call. It just took too long to type the names out.

I am wondering how to remove the STOCKS button from my phone. I looked at it today and noticed everything had a minus sign in front of it. That’s not good news so do I really need to see it unfold? The little graph looked like a bike course with a mostly downhill grade. Is there an option to ride that course and forget the stocks?

Check this out. I just turned on my Ipod. Which also happens to be my IPHONE! It’s playing music!

Need directions? I got them. Want to know the cosine of 3rsquared? I’m on it. How about the weather in Sao Paulo? Give me a moment. Anything else you might be searching on the world wide web? At my fingertips. Literally.

All of this information, all the time, it’s no wonder we are all not smart enough to take over the world. Maybe that should be my next season’s goal? Because I certainly have anything I would need at my disposal to get the job done.

(I know, I know, except the genetic predisposition for it, you got me there)

For as much as this phone connects and enhances me – it also makes me a bit sad. This is what our world has come to in a sense. Instant connection, a nonstop barrage of information and contact. Whatever happened to writing a note and passing it up a line of sleepy 6th graders during Language Arts class to say something to our best friend. What about pen pals. Or sending a card. Have the little things that built anticipation in our lives completely disappeared? It seems that we do not have to wait for anything anymore. And I wonder if this has taken some of the meaning away from the little things. A furtive glance. Face to face contact. A smile. Can email talk?

The other day Chris was asking why I don’t email him during the day. He says you work at home, you talk with others…what about me? It was a good question and I didn’t have an excuse. Except that I would rather experience the face to face, waiting to tell a story until I can use my own voice, hear his words, interpret his reaction. There are some things that email and technology cannot replace.

I wonder if reality is dying or if what is real isn’t really real anymore. Our real world is being replaced by one inside of our computer and phone. In a sense, our technologies and objects dilute our meaning of reality. I’m going a little postmodern on you here but was Baudrillard right? Is the line between real and virtual so blurred that it becomes hyperreal. And what does the iPhone represent? Is it just a phone or is it something more? Is it a communication tool or a gateway to understanding, to never being alone, to the feeling of control – we have everything we “need” right at our fingertips.

I don’t know. Am I’m not sure I have the time to think about it because I’ve got to figure out how to answer this phone.

And keep it away from my dog.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why Talent Is Overrated

A weekend away lends the opportunity to read a good book. Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated came highly recommended to me. As someone without a notable athletic background or family, I’ve always wondered how much of success in sport is because of a genetically-enhanced engine of talent or simply a result of getting the work done.

The book presented a wealth of research debunking the talent myth. To my surprise, there is no scientific research to support some people are born with a talent for something. Not music, chess, business or sport. The only gift the person has is the ability to pour years of hard work, motivation and practice into something they are passionate about, passion that crosses the line into a powerful compulsion, an obsessive interest or a ‘rage to master’ the task at hand.

The author explains how their gift is simply the ability to do hard work. To practice and persist long after everyone else has given up or tried something else. Using Tiger Woods as an example, the author traces his ‘talent’ for golf back to an instructive father who took early charge of guiding Tiger in the direction of golf, providing the opportunities, practice and feedback for create a golfing success. It’s not so much that he had a talent for the sport, rather years of work specifically focused on learning the golf and a father that cultivated him to be one of the best.

From this, the author explains how we can use that approach to works towards our own level of high performance. Since there is no secret to success other than simply doing the work it takes, we can all reach high levels of performance. Why, then, don’t more people achieve this level? Because the work and practice required for achievement is not 'fun'. In the author’s words, “it’s difficult, it hurts.” Most of us are inclined to give up before the good, hard work really takes place allowing us to be shaped towards our success.

The author describes deliberate practice as one of the most important contributors to great performance. By definition, “deliberate practice is activity designed specifically to improve performance.” It is an activity that is highly demanding both physically and mentally. It forces you out of your comfort zone into your learning zone. If it is just a matter of practice and work, why, then, do so few people achieve the highest level of performance? Because it’s hard. It means failing – repeatedly – taking responsibility for this failure and seeing it as part of the process to get someplace else. As the author states:

If the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them and they would not distinguish the best from the rest. The reality is that deliberate practice is hard and can even be seen as good news. It means most people won’t do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more.

The second part of the book discusses how you can achieve great performance. The first step as knowing where you want to go so you can plan the specific and immediate steps to get there. Next, the book covers how to practice once you’ve decided your goal. Most importantly, to practice directly (or deliberately) by working on the specific skills and techniques required for your goal. Note that this type of practice is often very…boring. Consider becoming a better swimmer: it often requires patience with many technique-focused sessions that may seem boring and slow. To that the author would say – exactly, if performance improvement was easy and fun then everyone would do it and everyone would be a success.

The author then discusses how to set goals. He notes, “the best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but about the process of reaching the outcome.” They make specific, technique-oriented plans for their mastery of the process. Not only are the plans important but the author notes that ‘self-efficacy’ is a key ingredient to achieving a goal. Self efficacy is one’s belief in their ability to do the work and achieve. It’s believing all of that boring, hard work will not only pay off in the end but that you can do it too.

Colvin also discusses how self-observation is critical in achievement. He explains the process of 'metacognition' or the ability to step outside one’s self to watch what is happening in your own mind and ask how it’s going. Use of metacognition allows top performers to consistently stay on top of themselves and adapt. This skill is especially important in long course racing – think of how many obstacles you encounter and how often things change during Ironman. Athletes skilled in using metacognition to assess the situation and then respond appropriately may avoid the slippery slope of failure that tends to happen as a plan becomes derailed in Ironman.

The author explains how top performers reflect and evaluate their performance continually. Not only that but they look for errors and then determine the cause. What sets them apart from others is their acceptance that the cause is often their self. They actively search for specific elements of their own performance that created the error. In other words, they accept their own shortcomings and failure. They avoid blaming the error on weather, course conditions or other competitors. They keep their evaluation relevant to what they can control – themselves.

After making an evaluation and identifying errors that prevented them from reaching their goal, top achievers respond by adapting the way they act. They are then able to integrate this process of observation and evaluation, learn from it and apply it to their next performance. For example; after a race, the best athletes make an evaluation of what worked, what didn’t work. Beyond just making a list, they then adapt their training and racing so the next time they can apply what they’ve learned and get to the next level. They believe in their own effectiveness in this process and become reinforced by the smaller successes which eventually pave the way towards their bigger success.

Baby steps.

Lastly, the author talks about passion. To excel at something you must be passionate and driven enough to work hard. Working hard isn’t fun and often involves revealing parts of yourself or the process that are not enjoyable. However, if you are passionate about what you are doing you accept this as part of what needs to be done. Passion also helps achievers accept and move beyond the necessary consequence of working hard, failure. Consider professional figure skaters. Research has shown that the highest level of skaters spend more time on jumps they cannot do and, in turn, spend more time landing on their butt. Yet these are the jumps that win Olympic medals. As the author stated “landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from.”

Colvin then considers why someone would continue to work towards something that has so much failure for so few rewards. In other words, why accept falling on your butt 20,000 times for one Olympic medal. The answer lies in drive. Exceptional performers have decided what drives them in life and made decisions based on that drive. Drive fuels one's passion for a goal. It's important to note that achievers are driven by their inside. They seek out the intrinsic reward of the process itself (the learning, the failing). They accept that the process or practice is not always fun and enjoyable. Sometimes it requires being defeated, falling or simply looking bad against everyone else. However, they find enjoyment in this process of learning and discovery, seeing both the good and the bad helping them to achieve their goal.

Since achievers are so focused on and driven by the process, they achieve what is called flow. Flow is a state where a person is so involved in a task they do not realize the passing of time. They master tasks because they are able to push aside distractions, focus intently on the task, learn and grow. Once they master a task, they seek out the next challenge. Top performers continually seek out opportunities to push past their current abilities even if it requires boring technical work, drills and failure. They view all of this as the price you pay for reaping the reward (top performance) and are intrinsically motivated by the process of getting there. As the author stated, “they get excited by new problems and find rewards not just in the solution but also in the process of solutions.” Simply put, what leads to great performance is an inner drive to be at your best.

The book closes by asking the reader to question themselves about what they really believe. What you really believe about great performance will eventually influence what you achieve. If you believe people – or athletes – are born with gifts to go win or excel, then you will find your own success an elusive mystery. Yet research does not support this idea of special talent or gifts. Great performance is not a mystery, it’s a result of carefully planned practice combined with drive. Those that get there are simply willing to do the work. The focused, passionate and deliberate work consisting of specific, at times tedious, technical steps required to improve. Top performers understand this improvement takes time and continual self-involvement through observation, evaluation and honesty. They are to engage themsleves in the process each time they practice no matter how boring, painful or difficult the task is. They are able to push past all of the failures and tedium because they are truly passionate about their goals. They have a ‘rage to master’, a compulsion to achieve, an inner drive to be at their best.

Overall I found the book highly relevant to experiences in multisport. Especially with age groupers, reaching the top of the ranks is less of a mystery than you may think. Of course there are genetic or physical indicators that leave some athletes better designed to produce fast performance or splits. But no amount of good physical design can substitute for the most basic of all – a lot of passion combined with painfully hard work. As you look ahead to 2009, think about how deliberate practice and passion might get you where you want to go.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Good Times, Good Laughs

The fun of Clearwater was not in the race. It was in the days surrounding the race, the small adventures that make you as a grown adult feel like a college kid again, of meeting new friends, sharing good laughs and generally speaking having a damn good time.

I traveled to the race by myself so when one of my athletes, Colleen, mentioned there was room for me in a condo they were staying at I decided to join them. It would give me a chance to connect more with Colleen (she lives in Washington) and make new friends – Kyle and MacBeth.

They mentioned extra room would be at a minimum. Not a problem – I’m pretty small and could probably handle sleeping on a carpet square if I had to. So when I arrived and they showed me to my closet, I was unafraid. It was like the little hole in that magical tree where the Keebler elves live. There was an air mattress, about 100 pillows, an outlet for my computer, a light and a door. Closet? Your call but for a few days I called it my little hobbit home.

The first day we arrived we headed over to the expo to check in and meet up with Rob, another one of my athletes (he lives in Oregon). He’s the guy who signs everything with “breathe”. And after coaching Rob for the past year I really think he needs to remind himself *frequently* to breathe. He is, in a word, excitable. Overexcitable. Like a small dog off the leash but on crack. Quiet but manic. Most likely to shout MIRINDA at the top of his lungs from a rolled down car window while driving by the expo.

Rob likes to communicate in a very "Gen Y" way. He’s one of those guys in his late 30s that has texting skills to rival a 14 year old girl. If it came down to thumb wrestling Rob or walking across hot coals, I’d take the coals. Many times – and I’m talking sometimes many times a day – Rob sends me a text. Completely off the cuff, totally random, wildly hysterical – he’s sent them all. Sometimes he tells me the interval he hit in the pool. Other times he tells me he cried like a little girl on this bike. He nailed a tempo run. His foot hurts. His kids are sick. The veggie porn pictures. Pictures of him driving his car while wearing an aero helmet. His dog wants to be my dog’s friend on Facebook. Anything and everything comes in form of text from this guy.

The hardest part about a “big” race like a world championship is not getting there. It’s not doing the training. It’s arriving at the start line injury free. Especially with frantic guys like Rob. You just want to close them into a dark room with no windows and keep them tethered for a few days so they can’t hurt themselves. With too many miles between us, that wasn’t an option. As such, a few weeks before the race his foot started to hurt. A short while later a calf strain. A trip to Disneyland where he indulged in kid food and chasing Mickey’s tail instead of training. A head cold. The list goes on….

Everything was simply not going his way.

Just when I thought things were safe, when he was finally on the plane heading towards Clearwater, a text came in:

I dislocated my shoulder but I’m ok! Call me.

Of course Rob had gotten on the plane right after that so I could only leave a lengthy message about bad luck, these things happen, obstacles can be opportunities and if not he could at least be my Sherpa for the race. Someone had to carry my post-race peanut butter cups. I don’t know – I was trying to be as positive as someone could be when they hear that their athlete heading to a world championship was down one shoulder.

In between Oregon, Texas and Florida, Rob called and left a message about explaining how a wrong boarding pass that led to a luggage mishap routing his bags to Atlanta instead of Clearwater caused him to run back to the ticket counter to (politely) accuse the attendant that she made a huge mistake that she would (NOW) have to fix to get his bags rerouted to the right place and by the time all of this happened they realized his bags would probably make it but unless he took off in full on sprint speed across the airport he might not make it on the plane, sprinting then something catching the bag hanging across his shoulder leading to the crash on the floor. Clearly I didn’t understand the details but I did understand that he had dislocated his shoulder but an orthopedic doctor that was nearby popped it back in, he still made his flight and was bound for Clearwater. Oh and the Crocs he was wearing while doing the 100 meter dash across the airport that might have played a role in his fall? He left those behind.

*breathe*

Above all, he reminded me not to worry. Everything was fine. Clearly. Why? Well, as he put it:

Don’t worry, Bigun is picking me up at the airport and bringing a sling and some ice!

The words “Bigun” and “worry” next to each other made me worry and the word sling for someone expected to swim 1.2 miles in two days was another worry word. Bigun lives in Florida. He’s a Clydesdale tri legend of sorts. A guy with a name like Bigun ain’t small. All I know about Bigun is that Rob made him eggs before Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Eggs he admits to later regretting. Because he had never tried it before. And because they were, after all, eggs before an Ironman.

So I didn’t worry. Because at least Rob was in Bigun’s big and good hands and soon enough someone would be cooking someone eggs. I told him to have Bigun close him into a metal closet and lock the door until I got there. When I finally did get to Clearwater, a day after all this occurred, I had yet another text from Rob:

Bring the wheels! My shoulder is fine, I had it kinesio taped back in place.

*really really deep breath*

Finally I met Rob at the expo and he was everything you would think – tall, skinny, quiet but chatty, slightly obsessed with Mirinda and sporting kinesio tape. I told him to stop swinging his arm around in circles to test his range of motion for fear the arm would simply dislocate itself and drop right into the sand. I could see the challenge before me. What we had here was a grown man with the attention span of a puppy ready to bolt at first sign of open door. I had to keep him contained. If there was any way to keep him on a leash and in a padded cell until Saturday I had to find it.

But there wasn’t. He was staying at the Holiday Inn and besides my closet in the condo was way too small. Instead I tried to keep Rob close at hand. The night before the race, we all went to dinner. Rob ate his dinner, a side of chicken, two loaves of bread and then asked Colleen if she was done with her dinner. Sounds like his name should be Bigun but I christened him Beanpole. I also put him on strict orders to eat a pie a day when he starts training for Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Because he’s just too skinny and needs to eat more than bird food. Man needs pie. Coach says so.

Naturally orders like this lead the conversation straight into junk food. The rest of dinner we spent making a list of everything we wanted to eat after the race. Colleen, Bryan, Rob, even Erich, we all had something to say. Glad to see I’m not the only one that will race for junk food. The list contained chocolate, fudge, peanut butter, blizzards, ice cream, cookie dough, chips, salsa, mojitos (extra emphasis because Rob circled it), bacon (somehow that made it on twice) among other things.

But first, the race. Everyone had a solid race. Erich was 7th in his age group in 4:08. It’s a rough day when the guy that wins your age group goes 3:53. Colleen set an 8 minute PR. Bryan did not die on the run and resisted temptation to draft at 27 mph. My favorite line from Bryan was when he rode by an (empty) penalty tent and said to the officials – I lost my paceline, you guys seen ‘em? And then there was Rob’s race. I’d mention the 17 minute PR but that’s not the top story of the day. The best part is the text I got from him after the race:

Lost my nutrition on the bike and crashed into a car! Yay!

Ironically his shoulder was the least of the problems during the race. And by the way, the next time you need to swim 1.2 miles in 28 minutes – pop your shoulder out of the socket, have someone pop it back in then tape it on. Worked for Rob. It was actually the bike course that would nearly did him in. Turns out that about 2 miles into the bike Rob hit a bump and ejected both of his bottles of nutrition. But that wasn’t enough. He also had a scuffle with a car. You see, the course in Clearwater is along busy strip mall streets for the first 20 miles. Someone decided to turn into a mall right in front of a guy in front of Rob. That guy avoided the car. Rob, however, was forced to slow down but still ran right into the side of the car. Upon impact he launched himself onto the hood? the roof? and still managed to get back to his bike, put on his dropped chain and took off like a man gone mad.

Of course, in his words, I may have paid for an effort like that.

Somehow he survives this incident mostly unscathed except for opening up a few of the airport floor rash wounds he got from the other day’s dislocated shoulder episode. But it wasn’t until the next day when Rob looked at the wheelset that he realized what he did. He had stopped so hard that he had completely worn away the rubber on the tire and left nothing but the threads exposed. He then rode on this non-tire tire for the next 30 miles without getting a flat. Now of all the unlucky things that have happened to him – that was pure good luck!

The rest of the day after the race we spent thinking about food, looking for food and finally each of us in our own way eating food. I almost slapped Erich at the grocery store when he said he didn’t believe in using food as a reward. Standing there with a Big Cup and a gallon of Moose Tracks in my basket I asked him the impossible, why? Because he doesn’t believe in treating himself like a dog. Treat me like the dog I am and hand me my Big Cup, bark, yip.

The next morning I woke up with a rumbly tummy (surprise) and Rob texting me about being HUNGRY not just hungry like most people. I told him to head to IHOP where I am sure he ate 20 Moons Over My Hammy or whatever kitschy greasy spoon dish they serve there. Meanwhile he sent a series of bizarre texts that I assumed were meant for his wife or Mirinda (“you are the wind beneath my wings”) when later he confessed that they really they were just bizarre texts intended for me.

You complete me!


Finally on Sunday I got to meet Bigun. True to his name he was a really big guy. Somewhere there is a picture of me and Bigun. He is so big that I literally fit under his armpit. I’ll admit I was a little scared by that. Bigun, Rob, Erich and I spent some time together talking about the Bigun Ironman Training Plan while Rob plowed through his lunch, my salad and a piece of pie. Shortly thereafter Bigun put Rob in his truck to safely deliver him to the airport (and hopefully directly to the plane).



Me and "Bigun" - visit his blog at http://clydesdaleshavebigbikes.blogspot.com

You hear a lot of talk about the drawbacks of coaching via email – no connection, no interaction. I beg to differ on that. I have developed some great partnerships with my athletes by way of email. Through our contact we form a friendship that holds in person as much as it holds online. Each time I finally meet an athlete I am often surprised at how it feels like I am meeting an old friend. Spending time with Colleen and Rob this weekend was just like that. Not only that but I feel like most of the people I meet in the sport are just all around good people, people I can relate to and know that we’ll get along – Kyle, MacBeth, Erich, Bryan, Bigun.


Me and Rob! Visit his blog at http://tri-robstri-blog.blogspot.com/

Good times, my friends, good times – both in the race (congrats to all) and in everything else we did. Thanks for the good times and laughs, guys.