Friday, December 28, 2012

That was fast...

I cannot believe or fathom that 2012 is almost gone. We are down to the final days, hours and minutes of yet another year. Forget resolutions, party hats and plans for the new year. I've never been one to make resolutions. Instead of making plans for the next year, I simply want another 2012. I want another year of more ups than downs, more smiles, more laughter, more friends.

I started 2012 with a new job, a job I can actually live off of and look forward to going to everyday. It's had it moments and while I work for a large machine, I do not oppose the corporate culture as I've discovered I can blend right in. I do not save lives at my job and this has never been my career goal but there are days when I do the smallest things and see how it has the largest impact on people. I can honestly say I enjoy my job and that is so rare these days. I have not been able to say that since 2008.

Material collected for cancer patients.
The year continued on with travel that I've missed for the past three years. Since my best friend left for college in August of 1995, we've flown or driven back and forth religiously for visits (about 2 visits a year). For the past three years due to job transitions and general life obstacles, I have not been able to travel. This year, for possibly the first time ever, I enjoyed a vacation with a layover in New York City. It was only one night but it was a night of belly laughter, gin, pictures, and enjoying my friends company that I'd missed so dearly

Birthday package for Annie-a 17-year tradition
My vacation continued onto Maine. Before 2012, I've only driven through a small portion of Maine. This year, I enjoyed the full New England experience complete with shore line views, sailboats, amazing seafood and a few visits to LL Bean. I met all of the future in laws. It was a great reprieve from work. Unlike previous attempts to have a vacation, this time, my phone did not ring. My boss did not have any urgent calls. I was too busy enjoying the sun and food to take them anyway.

Real Maine lobsters.

Our wedding literally started off the fall season. The weather held out even with a wind storm. No one passed out. JC and I showed up for each other. Everything was calm, relaxed and fun. The hours flew past and we are still cleaning up from the wedding here and there. It was a perfect day even though we did not have many traditional elements.

A bicycle wedding
Forget a honeymoon, cyclocross season began one week post wedding bliss. On a chilly Sunday morning, predawn, we stepped into spandex to get muddy. Neither of our race season were stellar. In fact, I barely finished 3 races. It was not for the lack of trying but maybe just too much going on in life. New job, planning a wedding, vacation, and unknown work schedule do not lend time to train. While disappointing, I finished the season uninjured and this is always a good thing.
Me, suffering.
As the holidays approached, I resigned to do the normal "family thing" my family always does which is hang around and do nothing. We are not formal folks and mom has never cooked a turkey in her life. I was prepared to cook but mom suggested a road trip to St. Louis to visit our cousins. The St. Louis family is some of the only family we have left and in all of my years, my mother has never suggested a road trip. I love road trips but I was not sure what to expect with mom. I am a seasoned traveler and mom does not drive on the highway. To my surprise, the trip was seamless other than a little mild car sickness on mom's part. We enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving feast around a dining room table with family. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed a post card holiday.

Cousins in St. Louis
 My plans to wrap up the year were simple with the planning of dinner with friends. However, in late November, I received an email announcing Project Improv was having a 10-year reunion. I was not a part of the original cast. I was a part of the second cast but without any hesitation, I said yes to a show. So tonight, for the first time in about 4-years, I will be doing a little improv with a group of people I have enduring respect for. All three troupes will be performing. I did not predict how this year would end but literally when the curtain goes down, the year will be near an end.

Project Improv Pic 2007 or 08

I have no plans for 2013. There is discussion of another vacation. There has been mention of racing bikes. My best friend recently got engaged so I am on standby for a pop-up wedding at some point. I do plan on using my new 5qt mixer over and over. However, I am not about to make any formal plans. Instead, I plan to ride the roller coaster that is the new year and hope for the best. More friends, more food, good health, bike rides, and lots of laughter. It sounds simple so I hope it happens this way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The ride home

On a race Sunday, there is no such moment as the moment when we get in the car to come home. Once in the car, it means we are headed for hot showers, a comfy couch, loving animals and the end of another race Sunday. It is also the most reflective time of the whole day.

Race Sunday starts at 5AM with the loading of the car, feeding of the animals and review of every bag packed. You cannot get 2-hours away from home and realize you forgot your helmet or your favorite socks. It's a chaotic hour getting everything you packed into the car, forcing your body to wake-up and take in calories. The goal is to always use the bathroom at home but quite often there are pit stops on race morning. Once we are in the car leaving home, we are in "race mode." There is little conversaiton on the way to a race as we listen to a mix of music we've compiled on our i-pods to avoid listening to small town gospel hour on the radio (no joke). We eat more calories, we drink coffee, and we wonder about the course silently anticipating whatever the day will bring. It's high anxiety and we both avoid interferring with the others race prep routines.

This is a stark contrast to when we leave for home. We moan and groan adjusting our sore bodies in the car seats. No matter the temperature outside, we find ourselves reaching for the heated seat button to warm our sore lower backs. The anxiety has given way to sheer exhaustion. Besides being physically tired, we are mentally drained from cheering on teammates, cooking enormous amounts of food and keeping the peace at our temporary campsite. I talk to JC, who is usually driving, so he doesn't tire. It's silly conversation about all the things we would do differently if we could do the race over. We talk about the funny cyclocross dogs we see and the cute things the kiddos say. All the while, we are nursing our tender carcusses awaiting the moment we arrive to our final point B.

At this point in the race, I am thinking about food and sleep.

One of the many pups at our race tent. He's smiling because he didn't race.
The road trip home is more relaxed with all attention turned towards the few required necessities like calories. I am not a person who dines in the car regularley but after a race with consistent hunger every few hours, I find the ride home is the perfect time to reward ourselves with something greasy and naughty. The burger and fries holds us over until the next stop at home and another meal, usually home cooked or slapped together with leftovers. With every passing mile, we count down the time to reach our comfy couch, loving animals and post race snacks.

The ride home is the only time I can enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. In the dark morning hours, we see a sunrise streaked with beautiful colors brightening the skyline. It truly happens in slow motion. The stark contrast is noticable from exit to exit. However, I cannot tell you we truly appreciate this beauty. We are usually too distracted locating coffee shops and approved bathroom stops. On the way home, I can take in all the colorful leaves, the sights, sounds and smells of fall. Externally, I read the signs for every pumpkin patch, corn maze, and haunted house along the route (sometimes aloud which JC doesn't care for). Internally, I run the race through my head turn by turn thinking about all the things I would do differently and all the things I need to work on.

The car ride home is the last place I swell with pride. I ride home proud of my husband for making good decisions. We congratulate each other as if we had podiumed and we nurse each other's aching bodies. He will tell you he usually needs more nursing than me. Whether it's band aids and ibuprofen or an extra hand to hold chicken strip dipping sauce, I'm there. Whether we win the race or not, there is this little moment where you are just happy that you can race and happy that the day has ended well. After the car is unloaded, the laundry piled up and animals fed, we finally collapse on our couch and only then can we say the day is done. Then, we count down until the next weekend and do it all over again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Team Cook-Position Filled

Everyone knows I love two things, cycling and cooking. I cannot do the two at the same time but I love these hobbies equally. The athletic, competitive part of me obviously comes from my dad who enjoyed a youth of various sports and eventually car racing. The cooking gene skipped over my mother and landed on me. Mom's signature dish is Hamburger Helper or a hash of lima beans, corn and tomatoes that to this day, I refuse to eat. I'm a genetic mess of athletics and fine cooking.

Just over a month ago, I was ready for another cyclocross season. The first race was the weekend before the wedding and my nerves were stacked with racing and wedding details. To say the race sucked would be the kindest thing I could say. From the start, I hated it. The course was a rough jagged mesh of pumpkin stems, soured apples and rude officials. My class of women is small and often we are combined with several other groups. The mayhem of juniors, younger women, single speed men made me squirm. As I sliced through the tape, an official yelled at me thinking I was trying to cut the field when in actuality I was just trying to figure out the direction of the course. I walked off. I had a "I want to throw my bike moment."

The truth is, I love racing but doing it alone is no fun. I do not have a ride or training buddy. I get bored riding around by myself. I've done all sorts of team sports but our team is stacked with accomplished riders and accomplished riders do not train others. It's not that anyone on the team is being snide, it's just expected that you will find your own mate. Few women ride or race in this area, so I have no options for training partners. Without the monies to hire a trainer or genetic clone advancements to create a cool training partner, I instantly decided not to race this season. Not wanting to be a deadbeat on the team, I reverted to the only other thing I know, food.

Caramel espresso brownies.
Just two races into the season, our team has not starved. While we wake before dawn and travel some distances, no one has gone hungry. This team does not subsist off peanut butter, gu gels, or protein powders. With some research, I crafted a simple seasonal menu including marinated kabobs, burgers, and pastas. It requires preparation and time spent over a searing hot grill. I do not mind one bit. In fact, it makes me want to operate a food truck (that's another story for later). Other teams definitely notice our set-up of Belgian waffles, burgers with grilled pineapple, and assortment of sweets. We've had a few riders panhandle us for a spare waffle or muffin to hold them over until they reached home and a drive thru.

The morning set-up complete with coffee and espresso.
 There is no worse feeling that starving after a race. Your body constantly craves food. Like many, I am quite cranky when I am hungry as are my team mates. We like to eat and we don't want jersey warmed gu's. Perhaps its an odd contribution and not nearly as glamorous as the racers. My class of racers really do not matter. No one cheers for the Cat 4 women. No one comes to see the Cat 4 women. No one takes pictures of the Cat 4 women. We really don't do anything exciting like the elite men. We're a slower group. So, why waste my time? I may race again but I'm going to need someone to make me excited because doing it alone is not exciting. In the meantime, I will cook until my heart is content and contribute something that I enjoy. None of my team mates are complaining because their mouths are full of food.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


 Knots are tied, the I-do's have been uttered and with the changing of the season, comes a changing of my name. Our faces are cramped from all the smiling of our wedding day. With the sunset on the first official day of fall, came about a southern charmed wedding worthy of any style magazine. There were no bows, no flower girls, no vocalist singing Ava Marie. There was a short march through a garden accompanied by a bag pipe player and the bride wore a tea length dress baring her ankles (gasp). The officiant wore a real kilt and stood with a clipboard. It is exactly what this couple wanted.

Saturday morning, we awoke to a full service breakfast outdoors with the birds singing.
Thanks to the abundance of reality TV, weddings have been stereotyped as elaborate productions hosted by self-centered needy women with the groom used as a fashion accessory. This wedding was the polar opposite involving everyone including close friends while remembering distant loved ones. These nuptials produced a bargain basement price tag without compromising the fun or simple elegance. The wedding dress was purchased off the rack (gasp). It did not have a train, a bustle, or excessive beading. The groom did not wear a tux and tied his own bow tie (gasp!). There was so sit down three course dinner of dried out chicken surprise served on rented china. The bar was even self serve. No one seemed to mind mixing their own cocktails. No one seemed to mind they were asked to not bring gifts. Instead, we walked into a tent of smiling laughing folks having a good time applauding our short ceremony. 
Bike decoration made by mom.
This three-hour evening was birthed from seven months of careful planning. The largest challenge was keeping things small and simple. So many of the traditional wedding elements did not pair well with this couple. We do not attend a church. We do not enjoy a lot of attention. We do not like cookie-cutter events. Our goal was to make  our wedding as personable and pleasing for us and our small entourage. The guest list was cut off at forty-five persons. We did not invite everyone we wanted. Instead, we invited persons who hold a special place in our lives, who mean something to us. A historic home can only accommodate so many people and the shorter guest list made it easier for us to socialize with everyone.

By far, this was a D-I-Y wedding. Mom, dad, father-in-law, sister-in-law, friends all helped this craft fest get off the ground. The invitations were hand stamped, bouquets were made in the kitchen, homemade sangria soaked in a garage, and table centerpieces were hot glued to ensure durability. No wedding planner was hired. We did not purchase prefab wedding favors wrapped in white tulle. We did not have a plan B if the weather did not cooperate. From day one of planning, we went on blind faith that everything would be outdoors without worry. Every detail along the way had a touch of us and when it came time for us to make our way through the garden with our family and friends looking on, all the hours of crafting, hot gluing, and taping paid off. Every detail was noticed, appreciated, and so well received. At some point, I turned around and could not believe that this little wedding was pulled off so calmly. My stomach ached from the laughter of seeing so many folks and my heels did not tire (I brought back-up shoes). When we finally collapsed in the bed, his heels blistered and my hair matted with hairspray, we laughed.

Cake table with special dedication to couple and those not with us.

An off the rack dress accessorized with great grandmother's pin.
 I've always held the belief that weddings should be about the couple. If the couple loves churches, pews and organ music, then by all means, they should have it. However, so often couples are lost in the haze of making others happy and hosting something that is not them. We succeeded hosting an afternoon that was us. We made it. I could not be happier and I could not have hoped for a better day.

The kiss.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


The wedding date is down to days and soon it will be hours and then minutes. Neither of us feel nervous or unsure. If anything, we are ready to do this wedding and have a great day with our family and friends. It's crazy to think that what started out as having beers three years ago has turned into a wedding producing one dog son and more extended family for both of us.

It's nice to get well wishes from others with their cards and such. I keep smiling because people keep congratulating us and we haven't uttered a single "I-do." We did not register for gifts. We have everything any couple could need and a registry seemed gluttonous. We've asked people to donate to the Golden Retriever Rescue Society in Louisville in lieu of china or bath towels. We love animals but we are more passionate about those animals who need homes. The only thing that trumps our love of the bicycle is the love of our golden retriever.

With wedding bands ordered and marriage licensees secured, we just wait. We wait until a gaggle of family descend on us wanting pictures, toasts, hugs and hand shakes. We wait until Saturday afternoon before dressing in our best clothes sans spandex, cycling tee's or yoga pants that we are more known to wear. We wait until the bagpiper (yes, we have a bagpiper!) arrives announcing a courtship coming full circle.

Where we will have our vows
There are voids along the way. We do not get to share our day with my grandfather whom I miss more than words could ever express. I miss his sounds, his sighs, and his gruff exterior. I miss his "country-ness" and ability to speak his mind without the concerns of being politically correct. I was and still am the favorite granddaughter. He would like JC. He would shake his hand and make some comment about him being bald. We would all laugh. Sadly, we do not get to enjoy that moment. We do not get to share the day with JC's mom and I will forever have a void of not knowing her but I have an arsenal of stories from others that I suspect will bring me closer to knowing who she was. I already know I would have enjoyed being with her. I love cooking and I love her son. As I understand, she had the same loves.
Historic Bed and Breakfast awaiting guests
For all that goes into planning a wedding, the last remaining days are the hardest and most demanding. There are small tasks that make me wish I had a supportive sibling who was eager to help. My mother has been a task general and although she has voiced her distaste for the bagpiper, she has remained supportive and assisted in every stage of the wedding.
Gardens around the Bed and Breakfast
Now we wait. We watch the weather channel constantly hoping for pleasant weather without heavy rain showers, wind storms, or tornadoes. We answer phone calls and emails to show our appreciation for the congratulations we receive. We wait and miss those not here. Yet, this time, next week, the day will have passed, names will have changed and we move on. Mom has always told me I've never been one to stand still or stay in one place. I like to move around, move on, and get to the next chapter. This time, she's right.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Under the gun...

According to the calendar, I have a wedding to attend soon. My own! Which is more nerve racking, preparing for the first cyclocross race the weekend before the wedding or preparing for the wedding? It's a trick question as the two things are equally stressful.

My parents asked me not to race the weekend before the wedding but I really want to. My race is 30-minutes and my field is rather small. It's not like I am racing IN my wedding dress. JC will be racing just a few minutes before me. We will finish about the same time. For both events though, it is down the final preparations, the final details, the tasks.

Between interval training rides which stiffen my legs to concrete, I've confirmed the photographer, had a quick dress rehearsal and check in with mom regularly on other details. Without my mom, our wedding would likely be a thrown together potluck outside under a misshapen tent with JC and me in jeans and tee shirts. Mom has been able to do so much with so little. She is crafty with that glue gun.

Normally, this time of year I am nervous anyway with the race season approaching. The wedding is just icing on my nerve cake. There is nothing to worry about but when you are a task master and a person who likes to be a hostess, it is really hard to not want to work the event like I've done so many times over. It’s equally as distracting to not be able to train every night of the week. I’m a worker bee and like to be my best at all times. Mom consistently reminds me that I am not supposed to be working on our wedding day. I will likely be doing some's how I operate. I can stand on a ladder in heels. I’ve done it before.

New Cyclocross Frames Awaiting Building
Speaking of tasks..the next tasks, taking a day off to go to the Social Security office and the DMV. The name change will happen sometime in the next six weeks. I'm ready. My new bikes have my married name on the top tubes but my racing license has my maiden name. It's all in the details.

I would like to think of the cyclocross race the weekend before like a bachelor/ bachelorette party sans jell-o shots, drunken madness, and any glittery stripper nudity. Next week, I am having drinks with the girls to celebrate the approaching nuptials. Since I am not a party girl, this is the perfect thing and something I am truly looking forward to. The cyclocross race just continues the party in a spandex sweaty haze.

It has not been a traditional engagement. Nothing, JC and I have ever done has been traditional or normal. There has always been some hitch, glitch, or hiccup. We’ve been able to look back and laugh about the past three years while looking forward to the future. This has truly been a great year and whether I was supposed to end up here or not, I’m here. Bring on a race, bring on a wedding, just not at the same time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

More Than a Star

In late November, I will turn thirty-six. I am a self proclaimed over achieving goal setter. I set goals for everything from athletics, to work, and home. If there is a bare minimum, I want more and I am not afraid to work to get what I want. I’ve held a steady job (or two at a time) since I was 16 and have never regretted a single day of it. I check off goals like a long to-do list. Now, on my list, I want to own a Mercedes Benz.

Why a Benz? Why now? My father has worked for Mercedes for nearly 40-years (Tafel Motors in Louisville, Kentucky). While many girls grew up wanting a Barbie dream house, I wanted hot wheels, specifically mini Mercedes replicas in all colors (the gullwing was a favorite). My youth is memorialized by the smell of diesel fuel, the distinctive purring of Mercedes diesel engines and the infamous star logo.

My dad is my hero. He’s done all the things a good parent should do. My dad has worked ten, twelve or fourteen hour days often bent over hot running cars for as long as I can remember. He’s provided for our family so I could have things like a nice home, sports, and a college education. He has always taken pride in being a service technician even with the back breaking work that is required to be a mechanic. My dad is a poster child for the blue collar, honest American worker. Even with this kind of demanding work schedule, he’s always found time to be with me. He never missed a softball game, science fair or art show. He will tell you he was sometimes embarrassed attending events in his uniform. To me, it was my dad. I only cared he was there he was there for me. I did not care about his fashion choices.

With my youth enveloped with all things Mercedes, you can be assured my parents home was filled with Mercedes calendars, key fobs, tee-shirts, hats, posters, visors, books, and various certificates that dad earned marking milestones. Our house was a Mercedes pep rally marred with pride in very room. What we did not have in my youth was a Benz in our drive-way. Dad always said that a Benz was a reward and he wasn’t ready to own one yet. I believed my dad and slowly but surely that became the reward I wanted. When people would ask about what I wanted to drive, I always said “Mercedes.”

Through two degrees, a few life changes, one job layoff and various moves around my hometown, my dad has continued to be there and I still desired to own a Benz. In my twenties, I was only a few steps shy of being able to own one but I wasn’t ready for the reward until I felt I was settled in life. This January, I became engaged, secured a comfortable fun job and by all definitions, I am settled. My fiance and I saved our funds and hoped that we would be able to purchase a trade-in. Dad was on the vigilant look out for a wagon in good condition.
 Dad, nor Tafel Motors let me down. Upon returning from a brief vacation to Maine, dad alerted me to a pristine trade-in , a silver C240 wagon with less than 69,000 miles. He instructed me to purchase the car immediately, without driving it. As usual, I listened to his advice.
The new car coming home this week.
To most people, a car is just a car. I am not one to believe in status symbols nor do I need the latest and greatest trend. I am known among my friends for my frugalness and determination. I’ve owned four cars since my sixteenth birthday, all European. They were cars designed to get me from point A to point B. This week, after dad completes some work on the car, I will have my Mercedes Benz that I want and that I worked for. It’s used but dad has assured me, my future husband and I will get many more miles out of this car. It is not a luxury car, it is a symbol of my dads work, his pride in a product and my reward for never slowing down in life. It is hopefully a mark that his rearing paid off. To this day, mom and dad do not own a Mercedes. He wears his uniform everyday with the iconic star symbol but drives a car with over 200,000 known miles. My parents’ home is still rifled with all things Mercedes. I believe as dad is preparing for retirement, he is hoping to own a Mercedes. It never crossed his mind to buy the wagon for himself. He purchased it for me. I can only hope that I could buy one for him someday, perhaps a new goal for my forties. How awesome would it be to buy a car for my life hero?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The New Domesticity

This weekend I was submerged in domestic bliss over a hot stove boiling cherries to prepare for pie and jam. I’ve just returned home from the northeast visiting my friend who I teased about “selling out to suburbia.” She had always been a city girl, living in a small apartment, commuting by subways and scraping by just to makes ends meet. Now she owns a charming bungalo home in the suburbs, commutes into the city (sometimes by car), has a full size stove (as opposed to her apartment sized appliance), a backyard with bird feeders and a driveway. She noted that since moving in, she has the urge to bake and cook more. We compared recipes. We talked about food. I realized in my hazing of her transition, I was hazing myself. I love the kitchen!

If this were the 1940’s, I would likely not be working outside the home. I would be tending to offspring and keeping house. I would prepare at least three meals a day. For some, this may sound horrible but I love the kitchen. I love preparing meals and cooking from scratch. When I read about contaminated food or chemically engineered foods, I squirm. I immediately think of something homemade.

When I set out to make jam and pie this weekend, it was labor intensive. The crust had to chill before I could roll it out. I had to pit the cherries by hand, sterilize the jars and wait for everything to congeal or bake. Yes, it took time but in the end, I had a delicious selection of homemade goods. I could identify where everything came from and how it was prepared.

4lbs of hand pitted cherries.
No one taught me how to do these things. As a young child, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother in the kitchen. She cooked everything from scratch, even ketchup (it was delicious). She did not write many of her recipes down. That is a loss of mine but I learned from her science mastery to just try things. Some things work out, others do not. When she cooked from scratch, It took more time and no, she never worked outside the home.

Boiling cherries soaking pectin bath
My mom told me this weekend that my grandmother would be proud to know I love the kitchen. Even my own mother refuses to bake or cook things from scratch. She hates the kitchen heat and labor. It is a choice she makes. She laughed, while sampling my cherry pie, at my excitement over blueberries but shrilled when I mentioned peaches (her favorite fruit).
Finished product, pie and jam
The feminist movement was more about equality. Certainly, some women wanted to escape the grasp of domestic duties. I try to balance my career and home life. It is easier said than done. We do have meals in a paper bag at times. I am not as happy on those nights as I am in the kitchen making homemade sweet and sour chicken or burgers. It’s a choice. I choose to spend the time and effort. I do not need to burn my bra or escape from the confines of “the man.” I have an apron and I’m proud of it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reunions, Families and One Bathroom

Much earlier this year, JC and I made plans for a summer vacation. His family is quite accustom to visiting Maine every year. I was thrilled at the opportunity to visit someplace new and add to my long list of visited areas. When we discussed these plans, it was cold and dreary outside. It felt like July was years away. Yet, before I knew it, I was sitting in an airport leaving for vacation, my first real vacation in four years.

My first stop before reaching Maine, was an overnight stay in New York City to see one of my dearest friends, Annie. Since the fourth day of our freshman year of high school, we have been close. After high school, she moved to the big city. I have been flying up to see her for over fifteen years.  My comfort level with NYC is quite high. I know the trains, the avoidance of tourist traps, and places to get really good foods cheap. Having only a day in the New York area, I did not have time to wander Fifth Avenue for trinkets. Instead, I stopped to have a picnic on Seventh Ave while waiting for a train. It was so pleasant to watch all the people hurrying to their destinations with cell phones, bags, and I heart NYC tee's (they still sell those). I enjoyed a muffin and water while waiting in the infamous Penn Station to travel to New Jersey where Annie now lives. She defected from the city for suburban living nearly a year ago. Now, I can add Maplewood, NJ to my list of places visited.

One of the interesting places you'll see in Manhattan

Train station outside Maplewood
 I have not seen Annie in a couple of years. As I was waiting at the train station in the charming neighborhood of  Maplewood, I became overwhelmed with nervous energy but within moments, I was able to hug and laugh with her as if time never stopped. For the next several hours, we sat in her new home sipping a pitcher of gin and tonics, talking, laughing, and nearly forgetting I had to leave the next morning. We grilled out with her boyfriend dining alfresco and laughed at a never ending backyard battle between the squirrels and birds. I wanted to cry the next morning when I boarded the train heading back into the city to reach the airport where I would land in Maine before the morning was over.
The bottomless gin and tonic garnished with cucumber. Delicious!

Annie and Melinda friends since 1992
 On my second flight in as many days to Portland, Maine, I was surrounded by small, screaming children. The flight is only an hour from NYC but it felt like an eternity with toddlers melting down with tiny sticky fingers grabbing at my belongings (thank God for i-pods!). Once my feet were securely on the ground and no small child was within my reach, I met up with JC outside the airport. I was in Maine. I was on his home turf now. The first thing I noticed about Maine was the air. It is fresh, crisp and seasoned by the ocean. We began making our way to his families cabin out on the coast on an island an hour away from Portland.

JC's Family Cabin
JC's family has a multi generational history of vacationing in Maine, specifically in the Five Islands Region. The family cabin has a small but adequate ocean view (you can see water!!). The island is cut off from many modern amenities including grocery shopping (30-minute drive), pizza delivery, cable or internet. However, you do not need much to enjoy yourself there. On the sun porch you can watch lobster boats, kayaks, and various sized sailing vessels coming and going from the nearby harbor all day long. The cabin is an old structure spanning many years of various remodel. If I was looking for a vacation with bell hops, a spa or inground pool, I needed to move my body to another place and spend an obscene amount of cash in this area of the country. This family domicile is an affordable DIY option. The house has a lot of history and I liked that. It is a very important part of JC's life. Once I was settled in, it was time to explore the island.
View from sun porch.
Anytime, I visit someplace new, I just want to soak it all in. I want to see everything and by everything, I do not mean the tourist stuff. I want to see the everyday things. I always ask myself "what do people do around here all day?" The few places of employment on the island involve tourism or fishing. Most places shut down in the winter. People come to the island for many reasons but one of them is the view. Although, we were plagued by mosquitoes that seemed immune to any bug spray, I could not get enough time near the ocean. The water was frigid at times but it offered just enough of a reprieve from the sunbathing rock I was perched on. While basking in the sun, the  birds, woodland creatures and even house cats made appearances throughout the days. There is no shortage of things to look at on this island. When not watching birds, I was lost in the various sail boats that skirted along the waters. Within hours of arriving, I wanted a water craft of my own. I was not there to yacht, however.
One of the many sail boats.
While it was a time of relaxation, it was extremely important that I go to meet the closest of JC's family. All eight of us (2 sets of paternal aunts and uncles, JC's sister, JC's dad, JC and myself) lived in the tiny cabin for five days with one bathroom. Oddly, it seemed to work. I got over being nervous around them because the cabin forced you to be together. They were so nice and welcoming. Without television or or other entertainment, we had conversation and enjoyed the radio. Most nights we were in bed by ten. We negotiated bathroom time simply by asking. JC and I enjoyed an outdoor shower in the evening with piping hot water right under the big dipper.

JC and I on a cloudy day.
The few times we ventured into town, it was for necessities like groceries or sandwiches from a small italian eatery that's been around forever. After a dinner in, we would stroll down to the pier for ice cream and watch the tourists flow in and out of the small place, their plates piled high with seafood and onion rings. Of course there was lobster but neither JC nor myself love lobster. It's okay. I eat it sparingly and he does not like it at all. I'm happier with clams, shrimp, or the cheesesteak sandwich (JC endorses this sandwich). We enjoyed watching others eat it
Of course I wanted to ride my bike. JC drove them up, so how could we not ride? However, I melted down on both rides. The small road leading on and off the island is no joke for cyclists. With no shoulder, poor road maintenance and an unfamiliar terrain, my nerves were racked by close passing cars and never ending bumps, slumps, and dangerous cracks. We completed (2), twenty or so mile rides. It wasn't that motorists were non cycling friendly, there was not enough space for all of us. Once you turned off the "death road", it was perfect rolling hills with scenic views of the ocean or amazing homes that we will never be able to afford. Meltdowns are rare for me on the bike but the meltdowns were worth the scenery. I want to ride my bike there again but we will drive our bikes to a safer starting and ending point.

Jc and I out on a coastal ride.
 Waiting four years for a vacation has been well worth it. I came home already thinking about the next trip to Maine. Next year, JC and I will likely be able to drive. We can take our time going up the coast, take our dog, and sip our coffee on the sun porch. It has been a tradition in his family for five generations and it looks like we will continue the tradition.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happiness is truly priceless...

It's been a wild and crazy year. It's been nearly a full calendar year since my employment was turned upside down dumping me on my bottom. It's been a year since I've been able to comfortably exhale. There is a sense of relief to reach the one-year milestone. I'm here and I'm fine.

Around this date last year, I came into work and was told I was no longer needed. The week prior I'd submitted a request for vacation and never heard from management. When I asked about it, they told me they would get back to me. They gave me a "different" kind of vacation, one where I never come back. While I was upset at the abrupt notification and lack of professionalism, it was the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire career. Since I was twenty-two, I've been working with non-profits all over my home town. In 2008, the landscape and scope of my work changed dramatically. With the economy slumping and growing more depressed each day, the donations and support to non-profits floundered. My position had been downsized or cut before but I always had another job lined up. This time, I did not and I went home in a panic.

Beginning of one bad chapter in life.

In the winter of 2010 I took a new position (because my current one was being downsized), taking over for someone with a long organizational history. I was already somewhat burned out but I was confident that this organization had a long standing community presence. I was tired of the panic and chaos that so many non-profits operate under. However, I was assured this was not the case with this organization. To bluntly put it, I was lied to. Everyday of work was chaos and pressure to do more with less...bring in more dollars...push...push...push...get it done.

What I took away from my year there was the idea of the manager I never want to be. I approached my manager many times seeking mentoring or leadership advice only to find that she was too consumed in her own personal life and did not want to "manage" anyone. She was constantly worried about appearing "perfect." Several times I attempted to have a serious conversation with her and she would begin tearing up. Her only advice to me ever was "anticipate the move of the other managers...really anticipate and adhere to their needs. They should never have to ask for anything." This is the worst advice I've ever received in my entire career.

Non-profit work is about relationships. I learned that early. It takes a long time to build sincere relationships. I learned a valuable lesson when I took over the job from someone else. She had 30+ years experience and when she left to retire, her relationships retired with her. People said she lived at the organization working day and night. I refused to be that person. When I interviewed for my current position, I was careful to ask many questions about the person leaving. Yes, she was retiring but my company was ready to change the position. I've rarely had a soul say to me "We used to do it like this________." That's all I heard at the other job, everyday. I was hired to carry on a job and complete it as someone else had been doing it since the late 60's. Change was not welcome, nor encouraged.

Oxymoron if there ever was one.

It has been my experience that when organizations refuse to change or look ahead, they begin to fail. They decompose from the inside out. The staff is angry, tired and used up. The programs suffer and the delivery of a product or service shows the cracks from within. Turnover rates say a lot. I asked a lot of questions before I took my new job. I did not do that before. I trusted that the organizations I worked with had the same passion for my hometown as I have. What I have found, is many of them have a passion for the dollars but not the people behind the monies.

I've learned a valuable lesson in relationships with co-workers. I enjoy working with people but constant socializing with them outside of work is not an appropriate boundary. Bar hopping and party going are not in many job descriptions and I refuse to make that a hobby. There is argument for separation of church and state for an obvious reason. There should also be a valid argument for separation of co-worker and your personal space. What are you going to talk about when you are around your co-workers constantly? Work. Guess what I'd like to not talk about all the time? Work.

What I have taken away from last year most is the need for a work-life balance. Working with non-profits, I am keenly aware that I will never make millions. I want to do a good job. I will work hard. However, I need a life outside of my job. This means, I do not need to work twelve-hour days, have late night emails or texts constantly about work. When I leave work, I like to have a social life with hobbies. I know my job may require me to work outside the nine to five parameters but not everyday. Most importantly, I like to come home not too stressed about my job or living in fear that my position may be eliminated with every passing day. I still have the passion for my hometown but I am cautious about which organizations I attach myself to. The pay is not nearly as important as the satisfaction. Happiness is truly priceless.

Friday, June 22, 2012

90 Day Countdown

Three months from today, I am getting married. GULP! Three months from today, some of our family members and friends will join us at a small farm house to share a special afternoon. This is a DIY wedding. This is not a glitz and glamour wedding. There are few, if any, bows involved. There are no tuxes, no registery, no brides maids, groomsmen, no DJ's, or sit down four-course meal. There is, however, a lot of craft time, creativity, and handmade goodness.

Our invites are hand stamped muslin fabric. All local, all handcrafted.
Someone offered to make us homemade cake toppers. We're doing something more simple.

Mom is making my flowers from her own garden. They will be wrapped with my great-grandmothers prayer gloves she wore for her first communion around 1919. This picture was an inspiration because mom assured me that we are not paying $144 for one bouquet of flowers (her words).
This wedding planning is around us. We are not working to make others happy. Right now, our wedding is personalized and financed by us. All of our simple details are all handmade so far. This wedding will have a hint of cycling with southern style. Think bow ties, old farm houses, and bourbon. This is what we wanted. I'd like to imagine that Anthony Bourdain would be impressed if he walked in on our wedding. It would be even nicer if he did some voice over work and photos with us. He's not on the guest list.

Our guest list is small, reserved for only close friends and closer family. The ceremony will be short. We do not have a plan B for the weather. I am working to keep the stress low.The best part of getting married in my thirites is I have never had a time in my life where I've been more comfortable with myself. I used to say I have no regrets but truthfully, I wish I had waited all this time to marry. My twenties were not a perfect time in my life. I was not ready for the responsibilities and work that is marriage. I was not ready for all the changes I was going through as a person. I learned a valuable very patient. I have been quite slow to move near marriage again. It only came up in rare discussions and the one thing I was certain about was the fact that I would not even consider marriage unless the right person came along. I had fully accepted this may never happen.

When people ask me about "the one" or "how did you know?" I unfortantely have to answer with a cliche of sorts. On one of our first dates, JC and I started completeing each other sentences or saying things in unison. This did not happen once, twice or three times but many times. After nearly three years we still do it almost everyday. At times, we may say something aloud so off the wall, we really do wonder how we conjured it up. There is some reassurance when we say something obscure at the same time. At least we realize we are not alone in our thoughts. That is something special and rare. I had never been one of those girls who claimed love at first sight or swooned over the first few dates. However, very early on, we both knew something was different.

We're not pefect. We have our arguments. They are not cute. We move on after we cool down. Neither of us can imagine ourselves without the other. The trials of our relationship started early with some huge stressors. We rolled through those. In many ways we are opposites. I am the social outgoing one. He is the quiet, shy type. You have to wonder if he is having a good time at a friends house because he is so quiet. He would tell me if he wasn't. We balance each other.
JC and I at a friends wedding recently.
 We've worked out the household chores list. I cook. I cook a lot. I love to come home and cook dinner.I hate dishes. He does the dishes. He makes coffee. I handle all our fiscal responsibilities. I take care of the flowers. He keeps the cars detailed. He keeps our bikes built. We have similar passions although my aspirations of public office are my aspirations alone. Most importatnt, we know we will never be rich, have a huge house, two new cars, and a vacation home. We are fine with that. We are happier with our small home, small mortgage, loving animals and Sunday mornings on the couch. We'll see how the next 90-days goes.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Making Lemonade

The excitement of having time to ride may have overshadowed the chores I was supposed to complete this weekend. This has been a hard year to make a consistent ride schedule. It's bothered me considerably. Work keeps me late at times as do my "pre-wifely duties" of dinner making and life organizing. Wedding planning takes up most Saturday mornings. All of this to say, ride time is generally cut short or moved off the to do list because of other life necessities.

However, this weekend, I was determined to ride and not ride alone. Thankfully, a teammate offered his services of accompanying me on a ride. He has flourished this year preparing for his first race season. This means he's stronger and I can chase after him in a greyhound fashion. He lets me catch his wheel sometimes.

The plan for the Saturday and Sunday rides was to get some light hill work in and general miles under our belts. A third rider joined us post race on Saturday. She found herself earlier that morning caught in a deluge of Biblical proportions. Somewhat discouraged, she decided to join us on a recovery ride. We all agreed that although the skies were turning gray, we would press on hopefully staying ahead of the rain. The weather channel said a "chance" of pop-up showers. We took our own chance.

A chance and certainty are two different things. We took a chance. We lost. As we pedaled no more than 100 yards from our parked, dry cars, all three of us were trapped in a torrential downpour. It was the stinging rain that soaks and abuses you. The thought of turning back crossed our minds but we could see clearer skies ahead and the rain felt somewhat refreshing. Yes, I worried about my new bike being in the rain. However, it happens. We pressed on several miles and quickly found our soaked selves drying out with the tiring headwind. No one complained, so we moved along. We did not pass many other riders and as we picked up pace on a small stretch of two-lane road, it would seem the ride would progress in a normal fashion. The only problem was a small sign that caught my drenched eyes reading: Pina Coladas $2. My feet heavy from the sloshing water swirling back and forth in my shoes began to set in but the two dollar pina colada sounded refreshing.

Scott and Melinda after the first rain storm.

Scott and Jordan still dry after the first soaking.

Still smiling with water in our shoes.

We turned back. We did not reach the harder hills. We sat along the Ohio River sipping on a delicious Pina Colada in our soaking wet chamois. We looked haggard. The pop up rain storm had turned us into soggy messes. The Pina Colada's made up for the misery we avoided had we pressed on. Our internal organs soaked in a frozen coconut, rum delight, we decided to head home up a slow but steady hill. We were mostly dry at this point which was a welcome comfort. Within a few pedal strokes, the skies opened up once again soaking us from head to toe, flooding our shoes and adding the last bit of humor to our day.

The $2 Pina Colada. Refreshing.

You might think we learned our lesson Saturday. However, on Sunday, the same three riders (plus one on the back of tandem) decided to ride again with the goal to finish the route we started on Saturday. The radar looked crystal clear and we were able to get more dry mileage this time BUT the skies opened up again, soaking us. Although the storm was more brief than Saturday and less intense, we decided this time to finish. We wrapped up the ride at a moderate pace, still wet, and slightly defeated. With our kits soaked, some of us enjoyed ice cream while another headed home to dry out (I did not blame her but I really wanted some ice cream).

Although, it was not the rides we had planned, we turned two somewhat painful outings into something of a laughable memory. It will be that weekend that we joke about to each other, "Hey! Remember when we headed out for a ride in that horrible rain storm, twice?"  It's proof you can make lemonade from lemons or in this case, Pina Coladas.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Say Yes to the Bike

On one of our very first dates, I explained to JC, that I was not a "ring hungry girl." As the night in November of 2009 wore on and more beers were poured, we carved out the idea of of engagement bikes. The reality of this was sometime off in the distance. JC and I faced some interesting trials early in our relationship including a weekend road trip that stranded us in West Virginia, job changes for both of us, and the loss of some meaningful friendships. When we occasionally discussed marriage, it was something on a to-do list, an idea that was always on the table but timing is everything. However, anytime we talked about the long term, we did not talk about rings, dresses, flowers, or ceremonies, we discussed engagement bikes.

As many people around me know, 2011 was not a stellar year. An odd cosmic disruption occurred where I had to rely on JC to be my stronger partner. An abrupt career shift meant the juggling of finances, illness, and life. Although I transitioned through jobs likes glasses of water, JC was my supportive cheerleader for the "next big thing." Countless interviews later, I secured a "real job." The New Year felt as fresh and clean as a Zest commercial. We talked more about a commitment and it was fitting that his proposal was on a bike in the park near our home. There was no bended knee moment and no ring box. I could not have been happier. I said yes anyway and without hesitation. I am not the traditional fairytale type of girl nor did I want to finance a ring for 120 months. After returning home from the park to make a round of calls to friends and family, we began the work on planning our engagement bikes while discovering we both had family jewelry I could wear. I slipped one ring on and we spent the remaining evening hours discussing all the details of our engagement bikes.

Our engagement bike idea was simple: Two one-of-a-kind, very personalized bikes handmade to our specifications with intimate details for each of us. We love many of the same things about bikes so it was a rather easy design process. We like steel and traditional race geometry. A key element was to capture the love of our animals. With our wedding, comes the merging of two households; one large spastic golden retriever, and one obese but loving cat. The cat and I are a package deal. If you are going to be with me, you will have to love my twenty-two pound cat. If we were designing engagement bikes, a likeness of Victor had to be included (his bike will have a likeness of Buddy). More important, it is customary to have your name painted on the top tube. This is the first thing I've designed with my new name. It made us both rather emotional.
Frame with new name on the top tube
Then sometime this Spring, behind closed doors, in Don Walker's shop in  Buckner, Kentucky, my bike was born from a dusty box of tubes. I was fully aware it was in production but unaware of the look or feel of the final product. Cycling has become something special for me. I appreciate the craft and careful love that goes into each handmade frame. I have two other handmade bikes. They are each very special to me.  The hardest part of any handmade bike is the waiting. I waited, somewhat patiently but excitedly. I refused to look at any pictures online. I refused any texts. I wanted to see it when it was complete. I trusted JC would make all the right decisions. He did. Months of waiting have paid off. My bike is here.

New bike complete!
To many, it is just another bike out on the road with one of those crazy riders that believes they have all the rights as every car on the road. To me, it is much more. To me, it is something my fiance helped craft by hand. It represents something we love together. It is sized just right. A few light adjustments and it will be the perfect bike. While some women would squeal over a new diamond ring, I found myself doing a happy dance (with witnesses) and chills running down my spine. The craftsmanship is amazing but all the small details make it much more special than ANY bike on the road or ANY other bike in anyone's home. I will never ride the bike and not think of JC. I will never ride the bike and be without Victor or his "likeness."

The Victor "likeness"-It is dead-on
I had friends and colleagues who raised an eyebrow when I said we were getting engagement bikes. I got that "huh?!" face. I know it sounds rather odd and non-traditional. Everything that JC and I have ever done is rather odd and non-traditional. It works for us. I cannot wear the bike on my hand but it makes our story more special each time I tell someone. That's what important to us.
Me with my engagement bike! I said yes!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Win. Place. Show.

This past Saturday morning as dawn broke, a trifecta was aligned long before a single horse took to the track. Cinco De Mayo, the Kentucky Derby, and a super moon were all pushed into one day on the calendar. With little or no hesitation, my fiance and I knew we needed to leave town to avoid the masses of inebriated out-of-towners, long lines at restaurants and the thick traffic that covers every stretch of road for miles. As if we had sent out some bat signal, friends invited us to their family's farm just north of the city. So, early Saturday morning, my fiance headed out on his bike with the boys to trek some 70-miles while I loaded the fully air conditioned car with all of our overnight needs.

The track on Saturday was likely adorned with ladies parading in their designer hats, dresses and high heeled sandals. By the eve of the super moon, I found myself covered in thick mud, wearing soaking wet shoes and feeling a salty crust in my hair. My forearms were slightly reddened from the hours I spent jockeying a four-wheeler through some of the most undisturbed countryside you can imagine. With dogs in tow, we rolled through mile after mile of scenic rolling hills and tree lined creeks. However, like riding a mountain bike, my four wheeler skills are rusty and I kissed a tree ever so gently. No injuries, no fouls, we headed back for gun shooting in a quiet valley. My gun skills out perform my ATV skills.

Iggy herds and rides four-wheelers. If he had thumbs, he would drive one too.

Arguably, the culmination of the evening was an outdoor foodie feast. Although over 80-miles from any city skyline or fine four star restaurant, this crew laid out an epic meal of Greek God proportions. Grilled burgers sizzling with flavors, accompanied by two inch thick salmon burgers, country ham wrapped shrimp and steamed vegetables swirled together on everyone's plates. As if that were not enough, we pilfered a crock pot filled with homemade smoky pulled pork barbecue so tasty and perfect that sauce was only an after thought. The never ending moaning, groaning sounds bounced around the table until most of us reached a "meat coma" of sorts where we talked ourselves into cleaning off our plates even if it meant for an uncomfortable feeling around our waists.

As if the dinner feast weren't enough, the buffet was changed over from dinner to dessert in minutes and the table over flowed with cupcakes, bread pudding, and an ice cream cake that would make your toes curl with delight. The meal was only enhanced by one of the best mint juleps I've ever drank in my entire life. Forget the infield powdered sugar slushie version that is labeled and sold as a "mint julep". This Kentucky cocktail was a smooth perfectly balanced mix of ice, syrup, bourbon, and fresh mint, all muddled together to release the flavors at their peak. As conversation died down from our full distended abdomens, someone finally noticed the full super moon carefully cradled in our backdrop. Indeed, it was super.

One of the many desserts we consumed
I could only best describe this weekend as a Kentucky post card. We awoke on Sunday morning in a small country farm home, a fresh breeze blowing through the windows, with the sounds of crickets and horses playing just a few yards away. I am fairly certain most Louisvillians were still in bed waving off the hours of clotted debauchery from the night before. Then, as I poured a cup of coffee from the french press (we take it everywhere), I could not help but notice the rolling mist across fields glistening with sunshine. The view literally looked like a post card that I would buy to send my friends who no longer call Kentucky home.

There are moments where you are truly thankful and acutely aware of the good things around you. As we sat outside on the deck Saturday night, eating and laughing at all jokes, I had that moment where I felt like I was in a commercial. People came together from all over our city just to enjoy an amazing meal and good company. The jokes, like the bourbon and food, were abundant and as well crafted as each dish we sampled.

On Sunday morning only my fiance and I remained with our generous hosts. We mounted again on four-wheelers taking an even longer ride pointing out every beautiful Kentucky scenery piece we could. This time, he drove and at times I caught us giggling. We rarely get to do "couple" things because we always have other projects going on. On this Sunday, we ditched the cell phones, the deadlines and work clothes. We rode around one-thousand acres, examined hand dug wells and carefully avoided small turtles headed for the creeks. After a little gun lesson, we returned home tired and satisfied at the same time.

JC doing a little target practice.

My limo for Derby.

I love my hometown but like many locals, I do not attend Derby. The crowds, the chaos, and general mayhem are too much for me and my fiance. I've been on both sides of the track (infield and Millionaire's Row). I feel most comfortable when I can see good friends, eat amazing food, and get away from the day to day grind that takes over so often. I do not need a garland of roses or to see a Hollywood star. I need a shower, a french press, and one more mint julep.