Monday, November 25, 2013

Why Do We Do the Things that We Do?

 This afternoon I took pause to capture images of the active yarn projects spread around my home.  I skipped over the projects that have sat dormant for four or more months.  Inventory?  About nine open accounts.  Wow.  And what do I really have to show for it?  Sometimes, I've got to wonder.  After all, I've repeatedly said that there's no way to make money off this stuff, it's not as if I'm converting my passion into, say, a yarn-work teaching store or even a design house.  It's a sort of applied art meets walking self expression art installment meets a vision of retro-leisure-time-activity.  Who knows, maybe it's just giving expression to modern day angst in a fashion that is quiet and portable and socially acceptable.  And really, why justify it with a cause, a purpose? 

Why so many?  Why not so many!
I'm quite satisfied with the variety, style, craft, and portability of the work at hand.  A benefit of working different projects simultaneously is that any project might fit the moment.  Need some mindless work for sitting at a swim meet?  How about a newly generated concept, full of life and potential?  What about a piece that has failed in it's initial efforts and needs some re-working and careful thought?  And of course, what about the statement piece, one which is always a conversation starter, a gem, piece of my mind, quite literally, out there for all to see? 

Forever Projects Work Wonders on our Sense of Time.
This afghan is one of my favorites.  It's called the Harlequin, from an old Afghan Catalog that I've been carrying around for years, Modern and Traditional Afghans to knit or crochet.
The Harlequin
From Mom's collection of course.
I'm thrilled with my color choice.  The sixties pattern calls for primary colors on a white background.  My taste, and to fit my front porch/office area is the chartreuse/coral/black/grey.  The black background seemed like a great idea, but it's turning into a bit of a nightmare.  I've got about forty more black diamonds to crochet and assemble, and the yarn is difficult to see, especially when working in challenging light.  I'm probably about twenty-five percent finished, so, like many pieces, I may never finish.

Don't give it away.  It's purpose is fulfillment. 
Mobius Cowl
I'm happy to make another Mobius Cowl.  I made this wrap/shawl/warmer for another friend at a time of illness and recovery.  This deep purple cowl is going to someone nearby who has had a difficult season.  I am not too fond of making objects as gifts.  A big piece of why I work yarn crafts is that it's a way to make things without always making things for other people (kids/spouse/etc), and as soon as one fills their to-do list with gift items, well, then, poof(!), there goes the huge part of crafting that is self care and meditative.  That said, I'm ocasionally inspired to make a gift, and this wrap is so clever, in that you never have to lift the hook (it wraps on top and bottom as you crochet), there something delightfully giving about the essence of how the cowl works up.

The message: Oh Well. 
Oh Well! Hat.

Heavy on concept,  the Oh Well! hat is one of my favorites.  It's a double knit, so as I work the main color, the contrasting color can spell a design or word out.  "Oh Well." is my first and very favorite bumper-sticker of all.  That said, it's not my favorite piece of yarn work, and I'm not in love with how it's working up (too clunky, too loose with the two color scheme).  It's also a scrap yarn, so although lovely color and yarn, possibly not the best delivery of my message.  Often times, the concept itself is much more inspiring that whatever it is I actually come up with.  So many ideas, and so  little actual time, of course, to bring ideas to light.  I'm completely captivated with yarn-bombing of all sorts, but truthfully, I can't fathom being able to cover such vast spaces with my work, so I need to settle for wear-able yarn art.

Sometimes, an idea fails. Move On.
Crochet or get out of the way. Move on.
I'm kind of moving away from my obsession with granny squares turned into garments.  So this really delicious yarn (baby cashmere merino silk), that I've already used for fingerless mittens and hat is sort of taking up space in my project mind.  I want to turn it into a skirt, but it's just taking too long, and I'm not feeling it.  Let's face it, anyone who's ever made a lot of stuff knows the truth.  Some projects just don't work.  This might get pieced together one day, but it's hard to
feel it, sitting in a purse, day in and day out.  In some ways, life is a lot like this.  Sometimes, something seems like a good idea, but once the inspiration is gone, move on.

 Meditation, Repetition, Prediction.
Needlepoint bench cover. Just like Grandma's.
 And then, there's a giant needlepoint bench cover that I found, half-worked, in a thrift store last summer. Something tugged at my heart when I saw it, and I was back in my Grandmother's house, learning to needlepoint, and admiring her cane wood chairs each carefully covered with a maroon-backed floral print.  Needlepoint is tedious, a tremendous eye strain, and not very creative at all.  It is, strictly, pattern piece work.  That said, there's a terrific meditative rhythym to this work, and there are mornings when there's nothing that I'd like to do more than sit in bed with coffee in hand, working this piece which, surely, will take a lifetime.  Then I can dream on to the discovery of what and where I might find the proper bench to place this work upon.   Originally, I imagined some sort of giant coat backed with this piece, but now I've come to realize that this sort of needlework will probably never make it outside of the house....well, as far as I can think....


Foresee the inevitable.  Weather will change.
Cozy in the American Tourister suitcase, a pair of mittens, worked up with yarn that will match the "Oh Well" hat.  I originally conspired to put little ducky on the back side, but the pattern I was using was completely wrong and my tension was miserable.  So it was, just a matter of days or weeks ago that I unravelled last winter's work and started over, perhaps to do a simple striped glove or the like.  For the time, I need to let go of my beloved stencil-patterns for knitting.  Now that it's actually snowing, I sort of wish there was a way that I could have foreseen the cold.   I'm enough of a fair weather athlete to absolutely wait until the weather shifts before I perform any seasonal projects.  Poor planning? Perhaps, but then again, if my intention is to create a feeling of being unencumbered within myself, then I guess I'm on the right track.



Wish List: Always Creating. And, speaking of scraps, I've got in my head that I'd like to build a mod-style dress out of cast-off yarn. Crochet is the craft, and I'm thinking a fairly bulky design on vertical stripes.  Lo and behold, the scraps that I was considering, probably wouldn't be enough for a skirt, let alone a dress, so it's back to the drawing board on that one.

And so yes, why do any of this? Why do what I do? Why do what any of us does?  It's in this world, a world endowed with leisure time and technology and mass production and the mad rush to achieve, earn, survive, that we wish and wonder why.  I argue that we do this because we must.  We must do something to create a sense of ritual, peace, art, joy, connection, belonging.  Some of it turns around and makes the world a better place, some of it sits in our own cocoon and withers, but it's what we must do.  We must try to do something, try to create something, after all it's the hope and the wish that we're building something beautiful, meaningful, worthy of this life and more.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"When you get to be my age, baby, you have to pay time respect." -Ava Gardner

I've fallen into the most wonderful well of comfort and fulfillment recently.  We're marking the year anniversary of Dad's death, and there is something magical about the year-long grieving loop.  I feel that we've given the run a complete circle.  We're fast approaching Mom's eighty-fifth birthday, which is happy, spiced with a little bit of sadness.  The number eighty five seems perilously near eighty eight, which is when we lost Dad.






Although I would argue that 2013 has been a nightmarish year at times (global events, national news, and even some local drama to soften (or harden) one's heart) I seem, somehow, to have staked my claim at longevity on this planet.
Somewhere along the way, I put my umbrella in the sand and said: these are the things I like to do, these are the things that I have to do, these are the long-term projects that I'm going to sustain in an effort to stave off the cosmic loneliness of inhabiting a doomed planet (puzzles, yarn-work, Ironman, creativity, food).


I've also, naturally, found tremendous life giving strength, first, in my kids, but also in my wonderful spouse, community, near and far, of friends and family.




So...well of comfort.  I hold, in my very hand, a book that I've been anxious to read.  It's about the secret conversations of Ava Gardner and author Peter Evans.  Ava, ever iconic, beautiful, witty, ribauld, tragic, leads us through a delicious tale of her life, her loves, her Hollywood, and more.  But here I am, on my perfect day on my porch with the light just right and as I read her story my own father jumps into my head. For instance, when I read the following passage:
       

"I might have worn hand-me-down frocks, and had dirty knees, maybe I didn't always scrub them as often as polite little girls should--but we were never dirt poor. I was the goddamnedest tomboy you ever met. In the summertime, I went barefoot, that was what farm kids did. Of course, we were poor. It was the Great Depression, everybody was poor. It cost you just to create. But being hard-up didn't make us dirt poor, fahcrissake." -Ava Gardner

Any conversation about the Depression reminds me of my parents, and my Dad, in particular.  He was born only two years after Ava Gardner, in 1924.  My Mom, four years younger, was of a more middle class family, and was young enough to escape the total experience of the Depression.  Dad's stories were a bit more robust...especially his most heart-wrenching, which involved a fire at their general store when Dad and his family were on a weekend fishing trip.  This story, one of the few terrifying tales told to me during my idyllic childhood, clung to me for years and years.  Finally, I have a print of a photo of the General Store in Wimer, Oregon, which was unearthed by an old friend of Dad's not ten years ago. It hangs in our dining room here in Oak Park.


Imagine the small jolt when I read Ava's words:

"No running water, no electricity, the privy at the bottom of the backyard--yeah. I probably had a suspicion of how horse-and-buggy life was for us...But you don't care about those things when you are a small child and your Daddy's the best lemonade maker in the whole world. And daddy had plans. He always had plans. He built a tobacco barn, and he opened a little country store across the way--Grabtown was just a crossroad in the middle of nowhere, really; God knows where the customers came from, there can't have been too many of them; I hope to God they were loyal--but the buildings caught fire and burned to the ground one night and that was the end of that little enterprise. Rumor had it that my brother Melvin Jonas, everybody called him Jack, started the blaze when he slipped into the barn to roll a ciggy and dropped the match...
I remember that night--I must have been about three...I remember the flames...I remember Daddy crying. You don't forget things like that. ...We were broke, really and truly broke, not just poor, out on the sidewalk broke, honey."

And there it was, that silent inquiry.  A story that mirrors my own Dad's in remarkable fashion, yet I don't remember, ever, in all of the times that we went through different tellings of the story...I don't remember, ever, that simple question of expression of the reaction of my Nana (Dorothy) or her husband, also, Jack Steward.  What did your parents do or say when you all saw the cinders and smoke?  Did they cry?

And that's the rub, right? The rub of loss is that despite my many attempts to cherish time with Dad in the end, honor his memory by thinking of all that we shared,  reflect on the many times together, especially in the last twenty years or so...we can never have those quiet times at the dinner table, over a fresh meal or pie or coffee in the morning.  All the times that Peter and I sat with Dad and asked questions and kept it close as possible, there's no going back.  So many lost stories.  So that's another of my life-long passions.  Tell stories, listen to stories, read stories.  Our history made us.  History is our greatest gift.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dolls that Swear, Dolls that Sweat, Dolls that don't always make everybody happy.


We took these photos a few weeks back.  I was awful proud of my kid for creating this outfit, and I began to teach her some basic sewing skills that I am sort of aghast that she doesn't already know, considering my sewing/needlework filled childhood.

So...Did you hear what they said about the prez?

This gem is a Gotz doll, a brand which I've admired for years.  When my older child was about this age (nine) we fell into the dreaded "you-know-what-doll" trap.  My response, of course, was to hunt down the cutest doll that I could find, not created by the Pleasant Company.  At this time, some five to seven years ago, I quickly discovered that American Gotz, along with just about any other maker of girl-child-dolls, had folded....hmmm....wonder why?  A particularly brutal and savage competitor on the horizon, perhaps?  One which lures children (usually girls) and their parents (usually mothers) into a ginormous shopping store in Chicago in order to buy and clothe doll (usually girl) and provide all matter of accouterment at tremendous expense, with saccharine story already in place and lacking any irony or true power (as in, when exercising power, one must do the hard thing and be unpopular, sometimes).  OK, so the cat's outta the bag. I. Don't. Like. A. G..

Yeah, well, I heard that all those r-cans are a bunch of stupid idiots, and they wouldn't have their jobs without those gerrymandered districts.
In fact, the topic came up in conversation recently, and I proceeded to spend an entire weekend scanning New Yorker archives for the article that I read, quite a few years ago, about Pleasant Rowland and the Company she built.  Where has it disappeared to?  I have no idea.  I think, actually, that the Pleasant Company article has been spirited away with all the other unmentionable attacks on major business interests including but not exclusively natural gas companies and major agriculture firms.  And, for me, what's the point, really?  As a parent, here in Suburbia, my chances of making any traction with my rant on Pleasant Company will fall on deaf, even hostile ears.  It's been said, Often, that she at least, "is not Barbie".  Well, this may be true, but since Mattel bought Pleasant in the late nineties....AG sorta IS Barbie, at least, she's her younger, totally un-hip, totally un-ironic, cousin who worries all the time about being nice and everybody liking and going to the right schools and doing all the right things in life and not hurting anything...like animals or kids (hmmm....why do middle class parents live AG so much?)....

as far as I can tell, we're all going straight to hell if they get their way, so you might as well come in and we can have a chat.
But if she grows up and moves to Suburbia and has kids of her own and she needs to turn up the heat, or crank the AC, or buy all that crap at Target (or AG), then it's OK, since she's not really, like, personally, hurting the world, because, after all, her hands never got dirty.
Those f*&-ers think they can do whatever they want, but this is my planet too, and I'll die  trying.
Not like her cousin, Barbie, always going out with guys and wearing hot clothes, and making out with all the other Barbies, and Ken, and anyone else who wanted to try some stuff out.   Sheesh...everyone knows....(whisper whisper) that Barbie had it real rough and she had that weird boyfriend, and then she spent all that time with that other Barbie (you know, the brown one) and then, finally, she settled down in that resort town and she was doing something pretty cool (what was it?).  OK, so, LF, you might get my point.

 I'm proud of our Julia, of Gotz Dolls.  She's not a far cry from AG and she can wear her clothes and all that, but I've avoided that place and all it stands for in the modern family pantheon.  And look, there's still a touch of that charm, that desire to glam things up, since, of course, we've got almost three generations of Barbie in this house (if we include nieces Barbie clothes, born in 1983)....Julia has a beauty mark, installed by lovely daughter, and she's got a swag haircut and the ensemble today, thrills me to the core.  Photo-shoot enhanced by the slightly wistful look of a girl, a girl who knows she's gonna catch shit for already wearing lipstick, nails, cut her own hair and painted on eye makeup, but she's worth it, baby, and life is her oyster...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dahlia Shrug...Fresh off the Hook!

OK, it's official, y'all!  I've gone from dragging my sorry behind to work five days a week down to three and I'm so happy I might just cry!!! So what better way to celebrate my first Friday of unencumberment than to blog about my fabulous new Dahlia Shrug.  All I can say is...let the pictures do the talking.  LF, you'll remember this pricey, hand-spun, Canadian sea silk fine yarn was my major find of the summer, and it's all worked up, blocked, and ready for wear.


I don't know how often folks tell me that I should be plying my trade as a fiber artist.  I always chuckle.  Crochet is, after all, a hand-made affair.  Sweat shop doesn't even come close to describing the sort of labor necessary to create anything with a hook.  Occasionally I'll see a really cute crochet item at Urban Outfitters or the like, and it's so cute, and so incredibly cheap, I try all I might to imagine how/who built it.  As most things in the world these days, it's just too painful to imagine...So I try to make a little this, and a little that, and embellish my own wardrobe, or sometimes gift a friend.
What else can a gal do?  

Peter, we're on our way to our daughter's High School! Can you believe?


A bit on assembly.  All great crochet motif patterns involve attaching one motif to the next without actually sewing assembly.  This adorable shrug follows that standard.  There are ten motifs, attached as I hooked, then a woven fishnet type stitch that built sides and cap sleeves.

 The great news, upon finishing this divine work, is that I bought exactly twice as much yarn as needed.  So, now to decide whether I create a new object, or make the same shrug and auction/gift it off.  Time to decide and figure this out. The yarn is lovely, but I've obviously moved on to other projects, already.
Auction item?  Who knows...

 So...in case you're trying to find some unencumberment on a Friday morning.  You might want to join me...stitching, running, swimming, or checking out the early bird affair at a groovy Estate Sale.  It's all within our reach, we just have to make it happen.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"I could be a movie star, if I could just get out of this place..."

 Every summer, around Iron-training time, I put together a mix-CD.  I listen to it obsessively myself, and pass a copy on to close friends who are also training for Ironman.  Usually, I'll get some response from friends (my teenager thinks this sucks! or...I really love the Pete Seeger_) or whatever.  Peter usually says my CD's are totally self-indulgent and only cater to my bizarre tastes, but hell, if it isn't self-indulgent, how does it have anything to do with Ironman training?  And so it goes.  I mention this as a lead-in to a race report, because, as always, the songs have potent meaning, at least for me.  And so, as I pore over the track list, my attention is drawn, again and again to a terrific sing-along, by Billy Joel.  So you know we've got a story here, like it or not!  And thus it goes:

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin

He says, "Son can you play me a memory
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet
And I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes"

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling alright

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he's quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there's someplace that he'd rather be

He says, "Bill, I believe this is killing me"
As a smile ran away from his face
"Well, I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place"

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he's talking with Davy, who's still in the Navy
And probably will be for life

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinking alone

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling alright

It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
'Cause he knows that it's me they've been coming to see
To forget about life for a while

And the piano sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say "Man what are you doing here?"

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling alright

So here's the hook.  We're in a bar, people are connected by their own addiction, their desire to create community, there's a guy or two in the place who have talents beyond their station in life, talents appreciated by few but not seen globally, and then the kicker, "they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say 'man what are you doing here?'"  So, considering Ironman many years in, I get it, loud and clear.  It's the community we form, it's the sense of self and ability to share loves and passions...it's about the randomness of life.  The randomness that allows some of us to practice sports into forties, fifties, sixties.  The randomness that throws us in community when we might never ever have crossed paths, and the randomness of who we were supposed to be, versus who we became.  It's also the dream. The dream that we could be more...if only...and it's those moments of what-ifs, whether we're actually any good, or were ever any good, or could be any good, that give us our empowerment.  It's the hope, the belief, that we can contribute meaning and beauty to this planet and our lives. 

Here we are, for our pre-race tattoo installment party.  Mine says: Thinkin of a master plan...
Thinking of a master plan...it's all about 2014!

 These friends are a sampling, only, of the community I experienced this weekend in Madison.  Not pictured, are the three Oak Parkers that I adore and love, and other assorted athletes that flow in and out of my world more lightly.  Sprinkle in the family that came to support, friends who were on hand for the event, and it's a terrific late-summer activity, one that would be hard to walk away from.  This is what makes it so easy for me to commit, year in and year out the ritual.  How can we not???  As I say, already, "It's all about 2014!"  Cycles, indeed.  And we'll all be there, perhaps with new and improved tattooes.


In this gang, we have three Kona qualifiers (87-present), and about 30 some-odd Ironmans,  plus a handful of Birkibienders, trail races, kids, cats and dogs.  The three to my right are absolute rock-stud heroes. Phenomenal athletes and funny, smart friends.

 But I've already promised some sort of race report here.  So here goes:


  • Essentials: rack bike on saturday afternoon. deposit transition bags, saturday afternoon
  • Sunday AM: up at 4AM  breakfast:  1 PB Jam sandwich, 1 instant coffee, 1 banana, 1 energy square, 1 water bottle, 1perpetuum (hammer products) infused with coffee. Bathroom stop. 
  • Leave with friends for transition area: body marking, visit bike, visit transition bags, visit bathroom, apply lube, eat more breakfast, sip fluid, finally, around 6:15, put wetsuit on, and get ready to near the swim start. 
  • Swim: pros start at 6:45.  Us lowly age groupers are huddled together in the driveway that leads out of the Monona Convention center to Lake Monona.  Music playing, video scrolling.  There's a scream that lets out when the pros start, then the de-rigeur anthem-singing.  By 7 we're all in the water, 2700 of us, waiting for a mass start...Yeah, this is a self-seeded event, where everybody tries to pick in which order they might be able to successfully swim 2.4 miles.  Much as I adore swimming, and I adore open swimming, the mass start triathlon will be the end of me.  My focus in these events is to avoid becoming frustrated, angry, anxious, nervous, aggressive, or, naturally, hurt.
  • But I survived, it, the water was choppy, the swimmers were everywhere, and it was a beautiful morning, guided by about 75 water officials (kayaks, boats, boards, etc.).  
  • Run up the helix (twisty up ramp to convention center parking) and into the transition rooms inside the convention center.  A volunteer (one of 3000) dumps out my labelled bag and asks me what I need.  I explain: arm warmers, socks, shoes, glasses, helmet, etc... I've done this enough times to know that a few extra seconds of care at this station can provide increased comfort and success during the next six to seven hours.  I thank my volunteer and am out the door, shoes in hand (I've got a quarter mile jog past 20 porto-lets to my bike).  
  • I find my bike (actually, call out bib number), put on shoes, walk/jog with bike to orange line, mount bike with crowds of others doing the same, and we're off, down the other helix this time.  Our ride begins with an escape from the downtown core, so it's mostly bike paths.  Narrow, bumpy, slow, no passing. Triathletes rankle at this, but I've done the course enough times to know that the hellishly punishing hills that await us will make up for the soft pedalling and city maneuvering that we do in the first six miles.  Patience, friend.  
  • The course is a lollipop.  Eighteen rural, relatively flat and straight miles to Verona, then a hilly, winding loop through varied terrain that is thirty eight miles.  We do the loop two times, then back on the lollipop stick to Madison.  
  • This photo was taken by a coach/friend on one the more popular climbs on the route where spectators gather to cheer/party/celebrate the day.  I've worked at describing this bike course in years past, probably not as thoroughly as more careful bloggers might, but today, I'm trying from a different angle...I've said many times, and it's always true, that this is a relentless bike course.  LF in other regions would argue that challenging terrain can be found elsewhere, and it can, but there's something so awfully hard about the wind, the hills, the shifting directions of the roads, the insanity of a repeated hills with the same insane fans/frat boys/cheering wildly, that it simply is that. Relentless.  
  • This photo?  Lap one, naturally.  My photographer most likely hustled back to town to shepherd in his athletes as they embark on the run portion.  And so it goes.  I'd like to thank, in particular, the farm families that drag their aluminum chairs to the side of the road to cheer us on.  We're playing in their backyard, obviously, and they don't always have friends or family that are racing.  I'm so grateful and attempt to share that gratitude as I ride by. 


  • By the midway section of lap 1, although I was riding strong and steady, I was well-aware that my now-famous-not so legitimate-rib-incident would creep up on me if not during the bike, then surely the run.  After about fifty miles in a tuck position I sat up in my saddle and felt the foreboding stab in my rib area.  Oops.  This is going to make a very long day eternal.  So, I backed off on the riding, sat up a bit more, lightened my pedal load, attempted to breath deep and slow, and took moments to massage my rib cage.  I re-instituted my commitment to finishing this race.  I have known, for most of this season, that this wouldn't be a PR crushing year, but a successful one was completely within my reach. 
  • Mile fifty seven I stopped at the Special Needs station and insisted that it was lunchtime.  Along with chatting up the volunteers and wolfing down a tapenade sandwich,  I lost maybe three minutes.  Totally worth the pleasure of justifying this volunteer station and being able to pass all those cyclists again as soon as I started riding again.  Sometimes you just need to make misery fun.  Anybody else who blogs about this day will mention the winds, so I'll leave that alone.  After last years NE winds, I was sort of expecting the worst.  Minus any discernable heat or precipitation,  it doesn't really get any better.  The wind was a bummer, but I think my own pre-occupation with my ailments was more damaging to my own psyche than anything else.  Ride into wind, ride up helix, dismount bike, run into transition area, once again to be treated in a queenly fashion by willing volunteers.  Pretty cool.

  • And on to the run. What can I say?  I'd like to imagine that there was a day, once, that I got off a bike and was exuberant at the prospect of running 26 miles, but let's face it...half the time I don't want to go for a five mile jog, so why now?  But there is my family, yelling wildly as I set off on my path, and my promises on facebook and all my friends out on the course, and what else am I gonna do?  I practically prepare for this day All Year Long.  The run course is relatively simple.  
  • Not too hilly, not too windy, a terrific collection of people cheering wildly, a variety of scenery, clearly marked miles, abundant aid stations and port-o-lets.  A well-executed 26 mile event.  It's twisty and curvy and there's not a whole lot of boredom available to the easily bored.  To the easily distracted, the course could be troublesome, there's a lot of "oh, look at that"  but I'm sort of used to it now.  I take off my heavy prescription sunglasses and shuffle along.  Except when I'm walking.  In case you wonder about Ironman, what they say is true.  
  • There is a lot of walking, except when people are running/jogging.  In my case, and many other athletes, there is often a chunk of time during race when there's more walking than running, and the opposite, as well.  In my case, this year, it was a sort of all systems off, at about mile 16.  

Mile 6



  • Things were tough for me, my chest was exhausted, I was sick of trying to jog/walk, and so I just started walking.  I knew it was going to be a long night, but I also knew that finishing felt like an important thing, and that with my training history this year, that walking more would be the best assurance.  Deep down, especially with a crash that slowed my down, I really didn't think that I had run enough to justify a fast marathon (fast being a relative term).  So I snagged Peter off the spectator course and we went for a walk, and he talked with me about my friends and my day until I could finish the thing on my own at my usual shuffle-jog.   By the time I rolled in it had been a long run.  I had smiled and joked, I had actually run, I had jogged, I had walked (a lot)  I had taken in a lot of (water/perform/pretzels/bananas/chickenbroth/defizzedcoke/gels)  I had visited multiple porto-lets, I had cried, and I had thought...a lot....and sang some songs in my head, not including the Gangnam Style song that was blasting at mile 25.   
  • And then there  is that magical moment.  It's completely dark but for the bars and restaurants still packed with spectators,  the capital building is lit, I've got a glow stick tied around my neck.  My whole body hurts,  my chest is tired of breathing, my rib hurts,  I pick up my feet and start running and it feels as easy as every three mile jog I've ever done.  I round the capital building and am nearing a finish chute crowded with screaming people (including my family) and I compliment a few people I pass on the way in.  I'm racing to the finish, thrilled to hear the booming voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, again: Karen Steward-Nolan, from Oak Park, IL, You Are An Ironman!!!!!  Woo Hoo!!!!!


And for the participation-inclined, let's play name that tune!!!! Please submit responses!

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IM 2013 CD name that tune contest:

1.  "You're amazing...just the way you are..."

2.  "I lost my mind, and that's not all in Oregon..."

3.  "When you've got friends...to wish you well..."

4.  "I've met a lot of fancy dancers, those who can sweep you across the floor..."

5.  "Bumpin booties, havin us a ball, y'all..."

6.  "Wobble baby..."

7.  "You want me down on earth, but I am up in space..."

8.  "Clams on the half-shell...rollerskate, rollerskate..."

9.  "A freight train was my only friend..."

10. "Baby I like it..."

11. "No one can convince me we're not gluttons for our doom."

12. "Young and old...are doing it I'm told..."

13.   "I'd be in trouble if you left me now..."

14.  "Would you turn up my volume in front of the cops, and turn me up every time they told you to stop..."

15. "Everybody here must boogie, let me tell you you are no exception to the rule..." 

16.  "If I could crawl ten years ago, nobody would ever know..."

17.  "Take it all for granted like you're the only one..."

18.  "I could be a movie star, if I could just get out of this place..."

19.   "Looking for my lost shaker of salt..."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ironman has become a marker, and so, let's go!

 Ironman countdown day four, or three, not including race day.  Some years, about now, I'm giddy and silly and dancing around the house.  Some years, I'm chewing through the walls I'm so cranky and nervous.  Other years, I'm so frazzled from trying to pull everything from different compartments of my life together, that it's just one insane swirl.  This morning, I woke up to what I can only describe as a hint of nervousness (can I have waited three hundred sixty days before getting nervous before such a potentially nightmarish day?) mixed with a hefty wave of melancholy.  Sprinkle with world news that can leave no sane person without a terrible stomach ache, and that's where I am.  Now, to wolf down my last meal before leaving in our beloved mini-van towards Madison, Wisconsin.

First, a discussion of gear.  Believe it, this photo-array of the packings that I'm taking is a typical selection of what Iron-geeks bring to their lodging prior to race day.  Two of just about everything, and one of every sort of race day weather attire.  Bike, swim, run gear galore, plus three days worth of weekend-er clothes to enjoy what is a bit of a retreat, reunion, celebration, as it might be called.






The Unencumbered Woman does one better, which is, as usual, I can't imagine leaving for five days without a selection of yarn projects.  I'm taking three (or is it four?)  yarn works.  One, my needlepoint benchcover; two, a pair of worsted weight socks that I started yesterday, and an Doris Chan motif skirt. That, along with a Joyce Carol Oates novel, my training log and calendar, camera, smartphone and sundry chargers, I'm all set for leisure time.

And what about race preparation?  I'll jog a bit in Madison, swim on Saturday morning, perhaps tool around on my bike, but for the most part I'm finished with exercise.  Yesterday, I got up early enough to swim with my team, and that felt nice.  Then, in accordance with the fact that I've been primarily walking since I crashed my bike, I went for a long walk at around noon.   By the end of the day, I was wondering what had happened to me.  Where is that fighting spirit?  Do I care how fast, how hard, how long I take?  Simple burnout, fear of failure, or even battle fatigue from a crash and sore breathing three weeks prior to race day.  I don't really know, and at my ninth Ironman, it hardly matters.  Frankly, this woman has done her job, but enrolling and participating in the Ironman has given me a focus for my years worth of exercise.  Most don't believe this, but I know I'd have a hard time getting out twelve months a year and exercising without this sort of encompassing goal.  Now, after so many years, the ritual is set and it's almost easy for me to go through the training motions. 
And then last evening,  as I sat watching daughter's martial arts practice, it dawned on me.  As I repeat something that I can savor, year in and year out, our life here in suburbia, the stars of the show are evolving and growing and moving and changing.  On the eve of a black belt promotion, that little pipsqueak that cheered me on in 2008 is grown to the size that her sister was in 2008.  And big sis, well, there's no shortage of emotional pull in this house as we watch her successfully navigate her first month at a humungous suburban high school.  We're so proud of these beautiful, funny, athletic, creative kids, and we're preparing for the next phase.  
 So what will the next phase look like?  Who can know.  And maybe this, as much as anything, keeps me coming back to Ironman.  I, as much as I love chaos and adventure, am a creature of habit.  I grew  up in a quiet, predictable, safe home.  I was fortunate to grow up in the number one hippie town in the US, and raised by loving, older parents of the WWII generation.  My empathy spans the decades and the movements, but at bottom, I crave simplicity.  A workout plan, a sweaty day, a healthy hippie meal, and a jigsaw puzzle to toil over.  Amidst the rocky world news and national news that leaves so many of us feeling utterly help/hopeless, day after day, I can repeat this ritual race.  While I'm at it, I can share my perspective with others, I can honor my own integrity when possible, and finally, I can get some of that mojo out, that a middle aged woman is totally proud to possess.  From year to year, I can remember what it was that was happening in years past.  Ironman has become a marker, and so, let's go!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Truly, for the needle and hook obsessed, there is no limit to obsession, and no limit to the love.

Taper, you say?  I'll show you a taper fit for a queen.  Taper time, in Ironman Speak, is all about cleaning house, organizing tri-gear, catching up on the Netflix queue, and finishing projects.  Throw in some yard work, garage & and basement cleaning, you get the idea.  Last night we polished off the summer skirt project, otherwise known as the Zuma Skirt, designed by, yes, Doris Chan.  Hooked from the always divine and not too-ungodly expensive, Tahki Cotton Classic Lite, we're lookin' stylin for a late summer evening.  






And: "You treat me like I'm an adult and I'm just a little kid!" 







I brought out one of my main photographers, and she did me justice.  There was a bit of arguing about the clarity of shots, but, as my companion insisted: "Mom, If you get mad that it's blurry I won't take pictures of you anymore!"  And so, again, point taken.   











Our fine photographer also insisted that we pose in front of the "pretty bungalow.  I was going for the art shot of the soon-to-be Oak Park teardown.  Not much agreement, here.

Just you wait, this'll be gone soon. Or, at least unrecognizable.

"Now...Get me like I'm tearing down the house, get it?"


Yup, it's vino time.

See, that's a good one, Mom!  I was trying to capture all of the extra western light that's flooding over the former attic and roof of the house, but the haze is pretty sharply white.
Great Teamwork.


And, taper time, lots of sing-along music.  It's what gets us through on race day and until then....