Or Saving My Life One Pedal Stroke At A Time

Archive for the ‘BIcycling’ Category

The Community at Wildcat Does Not Give Up On Me, Ever

17.3 B

The best part of my bike ride today wasn’t during the actual rides, although the smell of all the citrus trees in bloom was intoxicating, but what the rides today bracketed.

Workout 17.3 of the CrossFit Open threw me for a loop. It consisted of jumping chin-over-bar pull-ups, which I am able to do easily, and squat snatches, starting at 35 lbs then going up. Great. Just great. A snatch involves a wide grip on the barbell and raising it from the floor to overhead and locking the elbows. A squat snatch means then going down into a squat deep enough so that the thighs are lower than horizontal.

 Because of tightness in my shoulders, the most weight overhead I’ve been able to squat with has been 25 lbs. Additionally, the snatch has been the most difficult lift for me to learn. I can do them at 45 lbs but coupled with the squat, I just KNEW I wouldn’t be able to do a single one. Sigh. Meaning I’d have a pitifully small number for this workout.

 So, I did what I do best when confronted with a situation that is frustrating and scares the daylights out of me – I formulated a plan on how to manage the situation.

 I wanted a worthwhile workout today, not just the few minutes it would take me to do the jumping pull-ups of 17.3, so I rode my bike over for the 7:30 am workout that consisted of back squats, ring rows, thrusters, and a killer core workout. I lifted lighter than I normally would have to save some energy for the 17.3 I was going to do at 11 am.

 After the workout, I cycled over to Epic Cafe for breakfast, then came back to Wildcat CrossFit at about 10:15. I told everyone how awful I was going to do (part of managing the situation is heading off pitying looks when I really tank at something), then interesting things started happening. Noah told me how to stretch my thorax and shoulders. Raelene, Jennifer, Carmen, and Laurie talked me through the technique and proper form, showing me where I was limiting myself. The most crucial piece was that I needed to stick my butt way posteriorly, like I’m shutting a car door with it. And then you know what happened? I COULD DO IT!!! I could squat snatch at 35 lbs!!! Me! I thought I was going to have a score of 6 (the number of jumping pull-ups) then be stopped at the squat snatches. Instead, my score ended up being 34!

17.3 A

 Because the community at Wildcat does not give up on me, ever, even when I give up on myself, I broke through a major psychological barrier. I am stronger than my mind says I am. The voice who tells me I can’t lift with the big kids is wrong. Furthermore, it isn’t even my voice but a throwback to a time in my life when I had no idea of what I am capable of.

 The ride home? Pretty darn amazing. There is nothing like feeling strong, like being an athlete, and like having the confidence to call myself one.

17.3 C
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Uber

I have not written a post in a year. Wow. So much has happened this past year that, as a good friend put it, I’ve been living life, just not writing about it. I’ve learned much, and feel better than I have ever felt.  Digging down deep into who I really am, and being willing to be authentic has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It also turns out to be the easiest. The hard part is fighting against it, of doing what I thought I “should” do instead of what my instincts tell me to do; of being what I thought I “should” be instead of who I really am.

So who am I really? Well, I’m a writer and a teacher and an athlete and a cat lover and an artist and a woman and a cyclist and a… but those are labels. The realization of my core being came from a conversation I had with an Uber driver last night.

Many, many years ago, I’d said that someday I want to be rich enough to pay someone to drive me around. When I say I don’t like to drive, I mean it. I haven’t liked to drive ever since I learned how to do it. No clue where this dislike comes from since everyone else in my family loves to drive. Of course, they all like fresh tomatoes, melon, and carrots, none of which I can stand. If my face wasn’t a photocopy of my paternal grandfather’s, I’d be getting a DNA test.

I’m not a bad driver; I don’t careen wildly down the street, leaving a trail of accidents behind me. I just do not want a car, have never found them fascinating, and am more than happy to spend my money on traveling instead.

So I’ve been resourceful in finding other ways to get around. My bicycle takes me most places I want to go and, interestingly, I feel safer cycling the streets than driving them. I walk a lot places, and know how to read a bus schedule. I always thought I’d be great on Amazing Race because I can figure out a bus, subway, and train schedule like nobody’s business.

One day, as I was riding the bus, it hit me that I was, indeed, paying someone to drive me around. A friend said that instead of saying I take the bus, I could say I belong to a cooperative chauffer service. I liked that.

Believe it or not, there are a few drawbacks to taking the bus. They don’t always go where I want to go. Sometimes it takes a long time and a transfer or two to get to there. Buses can run late or not at all. They can be crowded. Sometimes other riders are scary. I am unwilling to take the bus at night. Instead, I would take a cab but they can be pretty expensive. That meant I spent a lot of evenings at home.

Until I found Uber.

It’s a better cooperative chauffer service. I like it more.

To my considerable surprise, I’ve had the most fascinating conversations with Uber drivers. The surprise isn’t that they having interesting and enlightening things to say. The surprise is that I’m willingly and actively initiating talking with them. I never do that with cab drivers. Most of them try to talk to me, because 99.99% of their fares like chit chat. The chit chat trails off when they realize all I want to do is look out the window.

But it’s different with Uber drivers. I think it’s because they wait to see if I want to talk, instead of automatically sending a barrage of words at me, causing a “shields up” situation. So I find myself asking them questions like why they like driving for Uber. Every single driver has said the freedom of setting his or her own schedule, and making more money than at any other job he or she had. I resonate with this; the need for freedom is why I’ve been an independent contractor for 25 years.

From there, the conversation just blooms. In a 10 or 15 minute ride, I’ve talked with Uber drivers about needing to do art because it feeds the soul, how sometimes we have to do things more than once to be REALLY SURE we don’t want to do them ever again, that taking a risk and following instincts can prove to be so much more secure than seemingly secure mainstream jobs and ways of life.

Tonight, Uber driver Robert drove me home from El Con Mall.  We talked about the movie I just saw, which had a feel-good ending. I said I like sports movies because of the triumphing against all odds. In fact, I love boxing movies, except for the actual boxing. He talked about boxers having anger that gives them the edge to throw punches. He grew up in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood, and needed to have that edge himself to survive, even though he was scared and insecure inside. By the time we got to my door, we discovered we both have a distaste for superficial chatter and that we’d rather spend five minutes having a real conversation than an hour of small talk. He termed this being a truth seeker and a searcher.

Truth seeker and searcher. I like that most of all.

 

 

Spartan Race

“This isn’t about going it alone; it’s about becoming part of something bigger than yourself. Spartans leave no one behind. It is great to push yourself alone, but it is even greater to compete along with friends and acquaintances to reach a new level.” Spartan Up! by Joe De Sena (founder of the Spartan Race), p. 163.

ISpartan Image

I was on the cargo net climb, frozen into place, unable to move my body the necessary two feet over the top, and climb back down. My friend, Elisabeth, had already scampered up and over the nets, and was waiting for me on the ground on the other side. The Spartan volunteer, a youngster who looked to be about 16, scooted over and tried to help me by saying, “You can do this,” and demonstrating how to get up and over. I gave his advice exactly 1.3 seconds consideration and said, “No, I can’t,” and proceeded back down. On the ground, I did the thirty burpees required when an obstacle is failed. I also started plummeting down the very black hole I fall into when I realize I’ve committed to something that is way beyond my capabilities, a hole that is slippery and lined with, “You should have known better,” “You’re not an athlete like all these other people,” “What the hell is wrong with you?!” “You have no one to blame but yourself,” and my particular favorite, “You got yourself into this mess, and now you’re going to let everyone down. You’re useless.”

It all started back in November when Elisabeth texted me, “You want to do a Spartan Race with me?” My response was, “What’s a Spartan Race?” She explained that it’s an obstacle course, and sent me a link to a video. I watched it and was both intrigued and horrified.

Elisabeth is a long distance cyclist and runner. She’s completed six marathons and countless shorter races. The woman has ENDURANCE. I couldn’t possibly do anything like the Spartan Race in a million years. Could I? Maybe I could. I mean, I’d been doing CrossFit for almost a year and a half. I could do a back squat at 85 lbs, and a deadlift at 150 lbs. CrossFit includes some running, and I was getting better at that. Maybe, just maybe, I could hold my own with the 23 and 34 and 45 year olds. I would just need some extra training. It was quite simple really.

Afflicted with what my cousin’s husband calls the “Whole Hog Syndrome,” when I commit to something, I’m all in. Facebook being the perfect medium, I posted information about the Race. I described the training I was doing. Daily.

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I took a picture of the new outfit I bought just for the race (and ended up wearing something else).

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I even trumpeted the food I was eating. I could, of course, eat whatever I wanted seeing how I was in training and all.

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Race Day arrived. The morning of February 7 found Elisabeth and me trying to get our bearings at the race site, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park outside of Phoenix, Arizona.  We got our race packets, took a look at the participants doing various obstacles in the near vicinity, discussed our race strategy which mainly consisted of us saying we’d help each other and confidently announcing, “Oh, I can do that obstacle!” and figuring out where to leave our bags of clean clothes for after the race. We even participated in the tiny warmup they had before the race.

Then it was our group’s time to go. Off we went, Elisabeth ahead of me. Up a sandy hill to the first wall, which I could only get over with Elisabeth’s help, scrabbling ungainly and plopping in a decidedly uncoordinated fashion onto the ground. She got over the wall by herself. The same with the next wall. And the next one. I started getting a little nervous. But I kept going. I got myself through a wall with cutouts in it, so I felt a little better. Then came the cargo net climb. I had not factored in my excruciating fear of heights.

After finishing the burpees, I knew I was in serious trouble because there were more high climbs ahead. I had lost my nerve and was feeling completely unprepared for the rest of the race. I didn’t know what to do; I sure as hell couldn’t run this race like a real Spartan. It wasn’t that I was incompetent – I would have had to grapple up several rungs of the Ladder of Ineptitude to even reach incompetent. It was that I COULD NOT DO WHAT THIS RACE REQUIRED.

Feeling tears stinging my eyes, I slowly started after Elisabeth. Elisabeth turned around and said, “If you’re going to do this, you need to run faster. I can’t do this race without your help.” I was thinking about my options – sitting down and crying (and not delicately either; I’m talking hunched over sobbing wails with snot running down my face); stomping off in a huff to sit in the car; and suddenly sprouting wings and flying home to Tucson. Her tone snapped me out of my reverie of misery.  She was concerned about her completion time for the race. She was committed to doing this. It was very clear on her face. So I picked up the pace but was still not sure what I was going to do.

I couldn’t burpee my way through every obstacle; that would slow us down to a snail’s pace. Finally, at the rope climb I asked a Spartan Race volunteer if I could just not do the obstacles but stay with my friend and help her. The kindest woman on earth said, “Of course you can, honey. I wouldn’t do any of these things!” She gave me the permission I couldn’t give myself.

From that point on, I decided to only do the obstacles I thought I could do safely, and help Elisabeth wherever possible. We ran up hills and down. She tried every single obstacle and did the majority of them, doing the required 30 burpees for the ones she couldn’t do. I helped push her up when she needed it, provided stability when necessary, helped with the rope pull of 90 pounds, and gave her shoulders to sit on to do a high hand over hand obstacle. The most significant help I gave was in the mud pits (which I actually enjoyed). She’d pushed me out, but the mud piles were too slippery for me to pull her out. So I used one of my strongest assets – a voice that can cut through a crowd like a hot knife through butter. “Can somebody help push my friend’s butt up?!” resulted in a very nice young man stepping forward and offering her his thigh to step on.

I won’t say that the rest of the course was a special, magical time in which my heart became filled with love for the Spartan Race. It wasn’t. But I kept going, and did my best. I also noticed how everyone, and I mean everyone, helped each other. At an eight foot wall we were looking around for a man to boost Elisabeth up when a 5′ 3” gal offered to help. She provided a shoulder for Elisabeth to step up on and once Elisabeth was over the wall, got herself over too. My contribution was to stand there in astonishment.

I did the barbed wire crawl/roll with Elisabeth just before the end of the race. After that was leaping over fire, which was the last obstacle. I could not bring myself to do it because I’d only done about a third of the obstacles and felt like I didn’t deserve it. That was for Spartans. I was covered in bruises that made me look like I had been in a cage fight with Godzilla, and had mud in every orifice of my body. Those are badges of honor for Spartan Racers, but I felt like a phony.

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I have been friends with Elisabeth for almost twenty years, and the words she said to me after the race confirmed why. Those words were, “I know you were thinking about quitting but you didn’t leave me. I couldn’t have done this without your help.” That really made me stop and think.

When it came down to it, I didn’t leave my friend. I couldn’t leave my friend.

Maybe I am Spartan after all.

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Sometimes It’s the Simplest Thing

Last night I did something I haven’t done in years. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it. It was something quite simple, so simple in fact that when I realized I was doing it, it stopped me cold.

I lay down on my bed to read.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about all the changes I’ve been through in the last couple years, and she asked me a really good question – Is my life what I thought it would be when I started on this new path two years ago?  After thinking a bit, my answer was, “No. It’s a lot better than I ever imagined could be possible.”  And it is. It truly, truly is.

I knew I could lose weight. I didn’t know I could become an athlete. I knew I could live on my own. I didn’t know I could have a home that is a sanctuary. I knew I could live without a car for a while. I didn’t know I would choose to make cycling a lifestyle. I knew I could do some traveling. I didn’t know that the more I opened up to the world, the more it would open up to me. I knew I could make new friends. I didn’t know that I would also reconnect with old friends and family, and that everyone would become part of a huge supportive network I’m grateful for every single day.

2013 felt like it was devoted to Mind. I needed to wrap my head around the fact that since my marriage was over, I had to live as myself, not as half a couple. Making decisions became easier since I didn’t have to pass anything by anyone else. And the freedom!!! I honestly felt like I had been let out of prison. Anything I chose to do affected only me. I also discovered that I had to do things my ex-husband used to do.

For example, my ex-husband is extremely handy and knows how to do almost anything mechanically related. When I bought my bedframe from Ikea, I didn’t have a clue how to put it together. But my friend, Annie, helped me. Then when I put the Tempura-Pedic mattress (read HEAVY mattress) on, the underlying supports weren’t strong enough. The middle of the mattress bowed up, like a mogul on a ski slope. I slept on the crest of the Continental Divide for months while I tried to figure out what to do about it. I know my ex-husband would have had the solution figured out in under five seconds. I also knew that his ability to figure out a solution to this problem was not a reason to have stayed with him. Finally, one day I took a really good look under the bed and realized how to fix it. I took measurements, went to Home Depot, and had them cut a piece of plywood to my specifications. I manhandled the mattress out of the frame, put the plywood down, and manhandled the mattress back in. Problem solved. All by myself. Since then, I’ve continued to amaze myself with what I can figure out all by myself.

2014 felt like it was devoted to Body. I’d lost 70 lbs, was riding my bike everywhere, and had been doing CrossFit for about five months. As I gained in strength and confidence, my body started changing. I had no idea I could develop this much muscle tone in my 50s. I realized that all those thoughts I had about how middle age meant fatigue, weight gain, and weakness were myths. The more I work out, the better I feel. The more I work out, the stronger I become. The more I work out, the more confident I become about all aspects of my life. IMG_3984

2015 feels like it is about Spirit. I haven’t written a blog post in almost five months. I love writing my posts, but the past few months the pace of my life has had a supersonic speed. For example, I taught at a school in Costa Rica for a month. Thanks to students at Cortiva-Tucson, I rediscovered my love for teaching. Another way to think of it is that once a teacher, always a teacher. I hadn’t done entry-level massage therapy and bodywork classes for about 10 years. Because of the dedication of the Cortiva students, and their commitment to learning, I was willing to try something new, in a new culture, and to reap the huge benefits that being unafraid yields. I discovered a heretofore unknown love of the ocean, and I even learned to like running by running along a beach that seemed to be created just for me. Beach 9-4-14 Path along the beach     10501624_10203386779366726_6971403773729792128_n

Another milestone was I met a country music singer I’ve idolized for almost 30 years, Dwight Yoakam. I first discovered his music when I moved to Tucson in 1987. I distinctly remember driving down I-10 when “Streets of Bakersfield” came on the radio. I actually said, out loud, “I know that’s Buck Owens, but WHO is that singing with him?”

Once I found out it was Dwight Yoakam, I couldn’t get enough of his music. I bought every CD he put out. I discovered good friends of mine were also fans. We went to every concert he played in Tucson, getting seats closer and closer to the stage each time he performed. In February, 2013, we were 3rd row center at the Fox Theatre. In 2014, we were again 3rd row center but with MEET AND GREET. Suddenly, 30 years of dreaming about meeting the man whose music was so important to me, and having the opportunity to tell him so, was in my hands. And you know what happened? I froze. He couldn’t have been more gracious, but I could not say the thoughts in my head. I had the most beautiful speech planned, and had even rehearsed it. It went something along the lines of discovering his music at a very difficult time in my life, and it’s been like a brightly colored thread woven through my life ever since. None of that came out. Some stuttering inanities did, but nothing close to my heart, and then I bolted.  However, I  discovered that he is just a man. Granted, a man with the voice of an angel, but he is just a human being. And so am I. Ironically, now I think I’d have no problem chatting with him but the need to is gone.

Me with Dwight Yoakam 8-27-14

I traveled to western New York to reconnect with family I haven’t seen for about 35 years. This was an incredibly important trip for me to do, on many levels. I haven’t even processed through all the layers of significance and, when I do, it will no doubt be the focus of a future blog post. There were numerous trips to Phoenix, which is about two hours from Tucson, to visit friends, family, and do some work. I also chose to have a Christmas vacation in Santa Fe with a friend of mine. We ended up having a fantastic journey through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert in northern Arizona, then spent a week in that beautiful city.

Painted Desert 1 

Petrified Wood 4  

http://www.nps.gov/pefo/  

I also signed a year lease on my townhouse. This is very, very big. It means I’ve made a commitment to stay where I am. Instead of wondering if I’m meant to be somewhere else, I am choosing to make my stand here. It means I am willing to stop running, physically, emotionally, mentally, metaphorically, and, yes, spiritually. It means I am now choosing to face the demons coming up from the depths instead of blaming someone else or planning another trip or overeating or drinking too much or working too much or trying to find a romance.

So now I lie down on my bed to read. Because I have created a home. And I finally feel safe.

The Bottle Tip Chewing Incident

Bike and groceries

I sat on the filthy sidewalk outside the grocery store, rivulets of sweat running down my back and into my eyes, stinging them, as I gnawed on the top of the plastic bottle. With one last surge of strength, my teeth pulled and the plastic tip stretched and finally snapped, flying backward against my soft palate. I tasted the acrid oil as it gushed in. Standing triumphantly, I spit the tip away like a Tour de France athlete clearing his mouth for the final climb up the Alps.

I like to think of myself of as someone who is rather well put-together, who has a plan for her life, knows how to get things done, and is looked upon as someone who has made significant changes as she truly follows her dreams. The reality is that most of the time I’m getting by just like everyone else, doing the best I can, and hoping for more good days than bad. Lately, that has been very, very true. Except when I don’t trust my instincts. Which is what led to The Bottle Tip Chewing Incident.

It was one of those mornings when I decided to squeeze errands in before traveling off to do treatments at my massage office.  My first appointment was at 10 am so I figured I had plenty of time.

Tucson is a very bicycle friendly town. The weather allows cycling year round, there are lots of bike lanes, and places to lock a bike abound. I use my commuter bike, shown in the photo. The baskets fold out and are ideal for groceries, and most everything else I need. I’ve been known to carry home over $140 worth of foodstuffs and sundries. Of course, some of that was gourmet chocolate…

I locked my bike in the grocery store’s bike rack, and headed in, quickly filling up my cart. Yogurt. The extra large box of cat litter. Deodorant. Fruit. Oatmeal. Coffee. Sliced turkey. Cheese. Coffee creamer.

After checking out, I headed back out to my bike. The 28 pound box of cat litter went into one basket, and most of the rest of the items went into the other to counterbalance. What didn’t fit went into my backpack, which I would strap onto myself for the mile and a half ride home.

With the bike fully loaded and balancing on a knife edge, I carefully inserted the key into the bike lock. This part is always tricky because my bike doesn’t have a kickstand, and easily falls over if I’m not paying attention while locking and unlocking the bike. Still, my mind was on how I had plenty of time to get home, unload, and get ready for my appointments.

I turned the key. Nothing happened.

I turned the key again. Nothing happened.

I turned the key again and again and again and again. Nothing happened.

I’d been having trouble with the lock sticking, but I’d always been able to get it open. Sooner or later.

I turned the key again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

Nothing happened.

I started perspiring delicately.

I turned the key again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

Twenty minutes later I was still trying to unlock the *&^@*#$) lock. Medieval chastity belts must have been easier to open than this thing. Thoughts of contacting Fort Knox on how to upgrade the locks on their gold storage rooms went through my mind.

Ten minutes after that, I was sweating like a mob informant, and swearing like one too. With absolute crystal clarity, I had a complete understanding of the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20.”

Just the previous week I had talked to the guys at the hardware store about oil for my lock that was sticking. They recommended this special (read expensive) oil to put in it that wouldn’t attract dust like other oils would. So, of course, I bought it. Had I put it in the lock yet? No. Had I thought about putting it in the lock? Why, yes! In fact, that very morning before I took off for the grocery store. Was I wishing I had put the oil in the lock when my instincts had told me to? Draw your own conclusion.

It was time to fall back and reconsider my position. All my extra time had evaporated and panic was starting to edge in. I could go down the plaza to the hardware store and buy bolt cutters, but I’d have to leave my bike with all the groceries piled into it. The distance to the hardware store stretched before my eyes until it seemed like it was ten miles away. Visions of dirty, hairy, fur skin wearing marauders pouring through the parking lot, pawing at my yogurt, drinking my coffee creamer, stuffing my sliced turkey into their barbarian mouths, and stamping my fruit into the ground with their hobnailed leather boots while I was sliding my debit card through the reader made me quickly discard that idea. Besides, I didn’t know if I had enough strength to cut the bike lock off.

Wait a minute. Oil. All I needed was oil. Maybe the grocery store had some WD-40 on the shelves. I didn’t have time to unload the bike and trundle everything back in so I was just going to have to trust that my purchases would still be there when I came back. With a deep breath, I raced back into the store, trying not to think about leaving my vulnerable groceries all alone, with no protection. I found some oil in the one foot length of home improvement items on the shelf. Oh, good. It was less than three dollars so I could just throw the money vaguely in the direction of the cashier and sprint back out to my bike.

I arrived breathlessly at the only open cash register (the store does not have self check-outs) to wait behind a customer with a complex transaction that, apparently, could only be performed in super slow motion and with lots of chit chat. Maybe the marauders would at least leave the cat litter, and I’m sure they wouldn’t be interested in the deodorant. They certainly wouldn’t be able to get the lock off so my bike was safe. After aging fifteen years, my purchase was finally rung up. I gave the cashier the three dollars and turned to leave, but she said the total came to three dollars and two cents. Are you freaking kidding me?! Precious seconds slipped by while I searched in my purse for the two most elusive pennies in the history of mankind. After tossing them to her, I streaked back outside, my breath caught in my throat, a cry of agony on my lips to discover… that all my groceries were on still on the bike. Nothing had been disturbed. Everything was fine.

Trembling with relief, I took the cap off the oil, ready to pour it down my lock. The tip of the oil bottle was sealed. In the directions on the bottle, the first step was, “Cut the tip off.” You know what I had in my purse or my backpack to cut the tip off the bottle? Exactly nothing. I had come too far. My need was too great. No scissors? No pocket knife? Not even a pair of nail clippers? You know what I do have? I have teeth.

I made it to the office in plenty of time for my treatments.

 

 

 

The Secret to Happiness

When you think everything is someone else's falut

I wish, I sincerely wish, the world would work according to the plan I have in my head. I have discovered that rarely happens. Surprise!

My original plan was to post once a week. Then it was once a month. It has been a month and a half since my last post. Crap! This is not the vision I’ve had for my blog. It is supposed to be smooth, insightful, timely, and of great use to those who are trying to find their way in this craziness called life. Laugh, snort, laugh some more, snort until I choke.

You wanna know what I’ve discovered about life? You wanna know the great, big, huge, mystical, life-affirming, clear, path-of-destiny wonderism that I have realized in my journey to happiness? Well, here it is. Get yourself a cup of green tea, settle in, focus, and prepare to be amazed. I have the ultimate truth.

Life turns on a dime.

Yep. That’s it.

One day I was I was continuing to make up stories about how wonderful my life was with a man I was magically thinking was great. The next I realized what a fairy tale I had conjured up, had lived with for 15 years, and just how unhappy I was (to the tune of 200 pounds).

One day I was thinking about how I couldn’t possibly do anything more than I was already doing. Which was working on the computer in the back room of my house, doing bodywork treatments one day a week, eating everything I could think of (and what I couldn’t think of; that’s called mindless eating or “food amnesia”), and sitting on the sofa, watching tv every night, and drinking. What a seriously glamorous and wondrous life that was.

One day I was thinking that, “This is just how life is. Being middle-aged means weight gain, means exhaustion, means a low libido.” Of course, I didn’t have all those thoughts all the time. They would just flit through my brain like birds on their way to another destination.

The next day everything changed.

I had an experience where someone I knew briefly and peripherally looked at me like I was desirable. Wow. I weighed the most I have ever weighed in my life and he looked at me like I was beautiful. This man was not my husband. This man was a catalyst, and I doubt very seriously that he even knows what he did for me. And for that, I thank him.

Shortly thereafter, I came home and realized that my husband didn’t look at me like I was a woman. He didn’t even look at me like I was a human being. No one should ever, EVER, be with someone like that.

It was just that simple. All the tears, all the anguish, all the “Let’s try this to see if he’ll pay attention to me” antics I did. Just. Simply. Stopped.

What started was, “How do I want to live my life?”

It is as simple as that.

It was as simple as the difference between one day in October, 2012, and the next.

Life turns on a dime.

Fairy Hair

Happy Valentent’s Day

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Soooo…. last year on Valentine’s Day, I posted a rant on my Facebook page about how I’d never, ever, ever, ever, never had a good Valentine’s Day. I can’t say that any more.

This year, my good friend, Elisabeth, invited me to go along with members of her church to Rocky Point, Mexico, February 14-17, to help build a house. It was in conjunction with an organization called Amor (www.amor.org). The family for whom we’d be building the house, Jose, Cynthia, and their three children age ten to three, had barely escaped with their lives when their trailer had caught on fire. Their car and a shed containing paint thinners Jose used in his work were nearby and had exploded, sending up huge fireballs.

Jose, Cynthia, and their children.

Jose, Cynthia, and their children.

Building would involve using hand tools (no electric ones so that others in underdeveloped areas could mimic what we’d build), either freezing cold or blazing sun (we ended up having both), camping in tents (which is where I got the title for this post; Elisabeth’s husband had bought her a new tent for us to take so they were calling it the Valentent’s Day present), Port-A-Potties, and no showers. There was cause for celebration that actual Port-A-Potties would be on site since the previous bathroom facility was a wooden enclosure over a ditch.

I did not know how to use building tools. Oh, I’ve pounded a nail into the wall to hang a picture but that hardly qualifies me to help build anything. I really dislike being cold. I hate camping. I REALLY HATE getting dirty and having to use a Port-A-Potty. So, naturally, I said yes.

In the year since I moved out from an ending marriage, I’ve needed, and wanted, to challenge myself to do things I’ve never done before. I’d lost a significant amount of weight, learned to cycle clipped into the pedals, committed myself to CrossFit, and started a blog. Now, apparently, it was time to learn to build a house. And, unbeknownst to me, it was time to resolve some very old, deep hurts.

I was a bit nervous. Elisabeth reassured me that I would be fine. There was a lot of work to do, but everyone would do what they can.

Late morning on Valentine’s Day found me at the Rocky Point campsite, helping Elisabeth put up our tent. Somehow, I had secretly thought we’d be ten feet from the beach, softly lulled to sleep each night by the calming whoosh of waves. Instead, we were plopped in the middle of hardpan desert, miles from the beach, choosing whether to put the tent nearer to the camp dining area, which would ensure we’d be awakened long before necessary each morning by pots and pans being banged around, or nearer to the Port-A-Potties, which would ensure shorter journeys in the middle of the night. We chose to be nearer the Port-A-Potties. Ironically, we were awakened long before necessary each morning by a symphony of banging Port-A-Potty doors, courtesy of very early risers. This was not the issue we thought we’d have to deal with in this particular location.

Mexico

Mexico

Early afternoon on Valentine’s Day found me on the job site wearing my-so-fresh-from-the-package-it-had-crisp-fold-marks-in-it Ace Hardware canvas nail pouch. My shiny new tools, also procured from Ace through the hand-the-Ace-guy-the-list-of-things-I-need method, were at the ready.

Elisabeth had said to just go up to someone and ask what to do, so that’s what I did. He told me to go over and nail some boards in the house frame. I walked up to one of the guys who was already hammering and said I’d been sent over to help. Without looking up, he said, “Have you?” then proceeded to ignore me. I stood there, frozen, as memories washed over me.

I did not grow up in a Hallmark family. My father is obsessive-compulsive, and has very fixed ideas of how things should be. There was only one right way to do things – his way. I’m not sure where it stems from. Maybe because his father was raised Amish, a closed society known for hard work and fixed ideas. My father worked my sisters and me hard, but no matter how much we worked, or how well we tried to do things, it was never enough nor anywhere near the perfection he demanded. I’d just ended a marriage with a man a lot like him.

As a result, I’d never had any interest in anything mechanical or building related. I’m good with my hands – I’m a massage therapist and can do all kinds of crafts. But the overriding feeling of “You can’t possibly do it right” from the past, coupled with the big sighs and pressed together lips from my now ex-husband had prevented me from attempting even the simplest home improvement project, like painting a wall.

Somehow, I managed to shake myself back to reality. I went back to the first guy, David, and told him I was ignored so I guess I wasn’t needed nailing boards. David then did something remarkable. He showed me how to snap a chalk line, measure and cut boards for fire blocks (boards within the frame that don’t have to be done perfectly), and how to nail them in, including how to toenail (hammer a nail in at an angle to secure boards at right angles to each other). He was calm, nonjudgmental, and encouraging. I ended up spending most of the rest of the day nailing in the fire blocks. Another guy said that he could tell I’d spent some time hammering before. I said that this was my first day.

After the fire blocks, I helped mix cement in wheelbarrows, using a hoe. If you have never done this, it’s a full body workout. Trust me. The next day I helped sift sand through a screen so it would be nice and smooth for the stucco we made the third day by again mixing cement in wheelbarrows. Once the wooden frame of the house was up, it was covered with tarpaper, which was then covered by chicken wire. I helped nail the chicken wire on. This had to be done carefully because it needs to be flush in order for the stucco to be applied smoothly. At one point, there was a separation in an area where the chicken wire needed to overlap. I asked David what we could do about it, and he said it could be stitched together using baling wire. Stitch? Did he say stitch?! Oh, man! I was the gal for that job! When David said it looked good, I was as proud of that as I am of the Tiffany stained glass cross stitch design that took me four years to complete. After the chicken wire, we troweled stucco on the house.

Nailing chicken wire up.

Nailing chicken wire up.

Tiffany stained glass cross stitch, Oyster Bay

Tiffany stained glass cross stitch, Oyster Bay

Everyday everyone got up at dawn, moving stiffly in freezing cold. We ate a hearty breakfast made by the excellent camp cooks, rode to the work site, and worked hard all day long in intense heat. Cynthia and Jose worked right along with us. We came back just before dusk, and had another hearty meal. Around the campfire was some singing and prayers led by the church minister. Then everyone stumbled off to bed, usually asleep before their heads hit their pillows.

You know what, though? It wasn’t that bad. Bone-penetrating cold before dawn? For months I’d ridden my bike to CrossFit before the sun came up, fingers aching and the air slicing my face like icy blades. Hard work all day long? CrossFit is functional fitness so my body was used to all the movements required to do all the different tasks. Scorching heat? I ride my bike in Tucson in the summer. Need to keep working until the job is done, and done right? Have I mentioned my father and my Amish roots?

The only breaks were for lunch, or the children’s outreach and church services most of the other members of the group went to. I elected to stay at the work site during those excursions. I was the only woman to stay when the church services were held, and continued working along side the men who had also stayed. We mixed cement for a step in front of the front and side doors. One of the guys told me to make the form for the side door step. Me? He said, “Sure. Take the measurements, cut the boards, then nail them together.” So I cut the boards to the proper lengths and brought them over to nail them together. As I hammered, I looked up and all six guys were watching me. And the look on every single one of their faces was encouragement. Not a single one doubted that I could do it. All those years of thinking I can’t do anything mechanical or build anything, of poisoned words and actions from people who were supposed to love me and help me, were undone by six people who had known me for three days and simply trusted me to do it right.

Elisabeth and me. Elisabeth is in the dark purple shirt and  I'm in the light green shirt.

Elisabeth and me. Elisabeth is in the dark purple shirt and I’m in the light green shirt.

By the last day, I had gotten to know everyone, and was even laughing and joking with the guy who had ignored me the first day. We were exhausted, filthy, and ready to come home. Fortunately, some of the members had condos right on the beach and generously let us use their showers. It’s amazing how such a simple thing can be so pleasurable. We all met for dinner in a nearby restaurant, relishing the chance to relax before spending one more night in our tents, then packing up in the morning.

So, after all was said and done, would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

Job well done!

Job well done!

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