Home from the “Desert”

Wednesday Noah and I head home to Potsdam.

I’ve learned a couple of things on this trip.

Home can be many places.

I am excited to get back to Potsdam. I miss MY bed and MY kitchen. I miss my trails. I miss my roads. I miss my hyper dog. I even miss my cat just a little. (Noah definitely does not miss Bailey’s rabbit.) Mostly though I miss the people in Potsdam who are special to me. It’s the people that make a place special. First are Coreen and Bailey. I miss them. I have missed seeing Bailey turn into a runner. And even if he is misplacing is suffering, by not doing it on a bike, I am proud of him. I would never have picked Bailey to get into a sport that requires suffering. Strange how our children can amaze us when we think we know them so well. I missed Bailey bringing a girlfriend over to meet his parents for the first time. But I won’t miss being there when he gets his drivers licence ;). I have missed supporting and being supported by Coreen through this personally difficult fall. I missed celebrating with Coreen when she got a new job that she is super excited about. She will be working with the local hospital to make fundamental changes on how they treat people with chronic illness. I am proud of my “People Whisperer”. It seams like for some reason we are apart when we get big, good career news. (I was in Utah when my tenure decision came, bummer!) Coreen makes me a better person and I hope that I do the same for her. I miss my friends. Potsdam is special for us because we have great friends there. Thursday we are having Thanksgiving with many of them. As is our “tradition” we are having our non-US citizen friends over for an American Thanksgiving. It seams like our American friends get to go visit family while the non-US friends are stuck in Potsdam. It’s great fun to share that tradition with them.

I did my graduate work at Michigan State, and coming here was like coming home. East Lansing was the first place that Coreen and I had an “adult” life. We got married while were were here. We bought our first house here. We had both of our children here (with the same midwife and delivery nurse for both!). We have many fond people and places that we miss. It was our first home together and so its special. It’s been nice to catch up with those people and to take Noah to do some of the things we did with Bailey when we lived here.

Wisconsin in my Home. It’s been bitter sweet this fall. While I am sad about my uncle passing, it was also really nice to connect with my family out there. So many new Facebook friends! Still chuckling that one of my cousins was locked into the chicken coop by her very young son. He’s a stinker and fits right in with our family.

Sabbatical is like going into the desert to be tempted.

Sabbatical is about having all of the fun parts of your job, without any of the crap that goes along with it. I think the senior faculty know, but don’t tell you, sabbatical is something like going into the desert to be tempted. It is a time to experience the “greener grass” on the other side of the fence, without seeing all of the dirt patches that go with it. Because you have no real responsibility at your temporary home, well, it can seem WAY better than the place where you are ACTUALLY employed. That’s doubly true here because I am familiar with this school and lab, and so I can function in it really efficiently. I love working with my PhD adviser. We compliment each other really well. It’s tempting to wonder “what if”. But it’s also dangerous. That’s probably one reason why they make you sign a contract saying you will come home for at least a year before you leave for a new job.

Fatties Are Awesome!

Those of you who read Fat Cyclists blog and are a Friend of Fatty know how awesome FoF’s are. When you meet a FoF for the first time it is like meeting an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time. They are a generous bunch. It makes me proud to wear the colors. Because I went to a race and wore a Fatty jersey I met up with a fellow FoF and then got a chance to meet and ride with a group of people I would not have otherwise met. Dave thanks for welcoming me. Brent and Scott it was great to ride with you guys a little bit and get to know you some. If you are ever in Northern NY let me know. We have a basement apartment to crash in and many many cool trails to ride. We also have these things called “mountains” for which “mountain bikes” were named. How about a 45 minute climb?

Jenni Hoops, thank you so much for the texts, conversations and support this fall. You are a true FoF.

Picture of the Day (Well its not really a picture as much as a video, and its not really mine, but it is me)

 

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Just Breathe

Today I am steeling someone else’s words. It is one of my favorite songs. The words say a lot. They are honest, and positive. They fit my place right now.

Yes, I understand that every life must end, 
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, 
Oh I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love
Some folks just have one, yeah, others, they’ve got none…

Stay with me…
Let’s just breathe…

“Just Breathe” – Eddie Vedder

I have a big, sometimes crazy, sometimes frustrating, but always supportive family. Its a family that you can count on to have your back when you need it. Being far away its easy to forget that. I won’t say that this week has been happy, or easy, but I am lucky.

 Picture of the Day

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“Sunrise in Wisconsin”

Enough of the heavy real life stuff (please Life it is time, how about a little break, eh?) It is, I think, time to get back to some roots on this blog. I cannot wait to go back home and get out my luge sled, sand the steels, dare the wall, and regale you all with tales of bruises. Let’s have some fun! 🙂

Rememberance

It’s Saturday morning. I woke today at my “normal” early hour and realized it was time to put my thoughts in order. My uncle Kenny and Kenny’s family are my Wisconsin family. I have a lot of uncles and aunts. A ton of cousins and even more second and third cousins. But Kenny and his family are my family out there. Kenny and his wife Cindy were in many ways my “Wisconsin” parents. Jenni and Corina (not to be confused with my Coreen) are the closest thing I will ever have to sisters. Tomorrow I am going Home to be with them. Words don’t and can’t really describe things like this well. You need the smell (yeah, you really need the smell), the feel, the taste, the shared experience to really appreciate them. Here is my best shot………..

Have you ever done one of those “close yours eyes and picture yourself in a safe peaceful place” exercises? When I do that I inevitably end up in one of two places. The first place is my grandma’s kitchen in Wisconsin. The second place is just across the road and up a little hill in the yard of my uncle Kenny’s farm. Where I end up for that centering exercise, I do believe depends on how hungry I am when I close my eyes. Both places are equally “the center”.

My family in Wisconsin are farmers and very conservative/traditional people. Uncle Kenny was my godfather. Some of you may know what that is. In Catholic circles your godfather and godmother are chosen to guide you in the development of your faith. They are kind of like your faith parents. In a more real sense my godparents were my connection from my immediate family to my much larger extended family. Being traditional folk, my family takes being a godparent pretty seriously.

I was 10 years old when we left the Midwest and moved to Connecticut. When we would go back to Wisconsin to visit “The Farm” I would always spend my time outside bugging my uncles. I had designated “barn clothes” that could only be worn outside of grandma’s house. They had to be taken off after I came in. The barn boots had to remain in the garage. Barn belonged in barn not in the house.

At that time we had two working farms in the family. Two of my uncles farmed together and uncle Kenny had his own. I spent time at both but really I spent most of my time with Kenny.

I would wake up or set an alarm to get up in the morning to help with milking and barn chores. Usually I would time it so that Kenny was almost done with milking (about 6 am). We would spend the time while he finished milking catching up on what had been happening to each of us while we were apart. Once we were done milking we would put the cows out. Then I would start to clean the barn and stalls while Kenny went out to feed them. I had my “jobs”. Sometimes my cousin Corina would come out and help out. Most of the time it was just me and Kenny.

After the barn was cleaned it was time for breakfast. I would go with Kenny up to his house and eat with him. That was when I would get the time to chat with my aunt Cindy as well as my cousins if they were home. Usually catching them up on the same events that Kenny and I just went over. (As an aside, Ken and Cindy were a wonder. One conservative, one liberal. One a farmer and one a social worker who was always wanting to “sell the cows”. Corina is very much her dad’s daughter. Jenni very much her mom’s. I don’t ever remember Jenni or Cindy in the barn. Somehow they were a true couple and a tight family.)  Then nap time. Kenny would kick me out. Nap time was sacred. I would always ask when to come back up. Sometimes there was a time, sometimes he said he didn’t know.

When there was a designated time I would be back at the appointed hour. When there wasn’t I would wait down at Grandma’s till I heard a tractor and go bounding back up. Morning chores were getting the cows back in, feeding them (you are pretty much feeding them all of the time) and cleaning the barn (when you are not feeding them it feels like you are cleaning up after them). Then onto the days activities. Hauling manure, grinding feed, cutting and bailing hay, chopping, fixing equipment. Whatever. The list of things to do was endless. On special days we would go into town. Maybe to the tractor store or maybe to a department store to get stuff for the farm.

In the afternoon. More feeding and then the second milking. Usually I would stay around for that entire milking. Don’t walk behind that cow, she kicks. Go feed the ones I am done with. Go into the fridge and get us a pop. Kenny always had snacks in the barn fridge, usually cheese. Then it was time for dinner.

Lots of times my trips to Wisconsin were for festive events like weddings. Weddings and receptions on farms are often split or interrupted by milking time. The faster you could get your chores done the faster you could get back to the festivities. Kenny never expected me to help with chores on those occasions, I just did it. Together we could get the work done faster. The the other thing about festivities is that it was pretty much inevitable that a cow would be calving on those days and that the calving would be difficult and require our attention. It got to the point that I would ask him which cow was going to calve before the wedding. We would both laugh, then go take care of the cow that was, in fact, calving.

Eventually I grew up and moved out on my own. When I was in graduate school (the best 6,7,8,  9 years of my life) Coreen and I would make those trips from Michigan out to Wisconsin together. Usually it was during Thanksgiving. Coreen would come up and spend a little time with us, or she would go to Kenny’s house and spend time with his family, or she would spend time with Grandma. It became our tradition and when the kids were born we brought them out with us too. But I always spent my time up on the farm helping Kenny out (even though Coreen insisted that she would not be abandoned with the kids and I had to keep that in mind).

Our relationship, like all that start as child/adult, changed as we both grew up (it went from pop to beer) but we had a rhythm and pattern that remained. Eventually my own kids would come up with me sometimes to the barn. Kenny loved kids. I think we all have pictures of Kenny holding our kids in the barn looking at calves. The kids are different but I think we all have that picture. (I need to find mine.)

Looking back, what I did in Wisconsin could have been annoying for Kenny. Some little punk kid who never actually lived on a farm following him around while he worked. Interrupting the normal routine. Probably getting in the way at least some of the time. Leaving only when he needed to take a nap and bounding back to heel when the tractor turned on asking for a ride.

But it was never like that. Kenny always had time for me. He always had room in the tractor. (Even when I was much too big to ride comfortably for either of us. Later he always had time for Bailey to ride with him. He used to let Bailey drive. Kenny would steer by tugging on Bailey’s ear in the direction he wanted Bailey to turn.)  He never yelled when I did something wrong. If I was going too slow on a job he would finish up the job seamlessly when he got to it. He never expected any help from me but appreciated and welcomed the help I gave him. He appreciated and welcomed the company.

Kenny taught me the value of hard work. Physical, tiring, dirty work. (Sometimes I think that my college students could benefit with a summer of grinding feed just to understand how lucky they are.) Of doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Of finishing a job.  Of taking pride in doing that work. Of being connected to the earth. Of being family.

Once when I was visiting during graduate school I went up to the barn at 5am to begin my day.

“Why are you up here? Why aren’t you sleeping? Aren’t you on vacation?”

“THIS is my vacation. It’s time away from computers and cameras and lasers. I love this.”

“I would be sleeping right now if I was you.” I saw the smile on his face as he quickly turned away.

There are so many memories. The first year we brought Bailey to Wisconsin Bailey brought with him the most contagious stomach bug I have ever been a part of. Every, and I mean every, person who came in contact with Bailey was laid waste by the bug. And it was not a minor bug, it was a true laying of waste kind of bug. I remember Grandma hanging laundry out and throwing up while she did that. Kenny puked his brains out while milking in the morning. I helped him especially hard that morning because I felt guilty. It was and remains to this day a legendary event in our family. When Kenny and I were saying good bye a couple of weeks ago I apologized for that. It was long overdue. In the midst our tears Kenny laughed and called Bailey a “little shit” for that. It was the most loving calling of someone a little shit I had ever heard. That was the last thing we laughed about together.

Picture of the Day

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“Tractor Ride”

 

Enough Said

lavender-cancer-awareness-ribbon

Cancer doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you are black, white, brown, yellow. It doesn’t care if you are red or blue. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. It doesn’t care if you are an engineer or a farmer.

Rest peacefully Kenny. I am coming Home this weekend to say good bye to your earthly body. To be with our family and friends. To cry and, hopefully, to laugh. To feel your spirit and presence.

Finishing

Sorry I haven’t been writing a lot here recently. I have two weeks left in Michigan and I am frantically trying to finish up what I need to do before I go. Doing the kinds of experiments I do is never easy. Compound that with a time crunch and equipment that was old when I used it 15 years ago and well…classic two steps forward one step back. Classic mad scramble. Classic I am focused on things that do not require helmets.

I realized over the weekend I am not ready to go home. I miss being at home with Coreen and Bailey, but Noah and I are hitting our stride here in Michigan.

When I planned this trip I figured Noah (and me too 🙂 ) would be more homesick and so I planned it accordingly. Noah has been a champ. Anyone who has read about some of the adventures Noah has had while crewing for me during races knows that Noah has an ability to just do things. That’s not really the right way to put it. He rolls with things. I think that’s his superpower. (Mine is the ability to pack. You have no idea how much I can pack into a car. There is always room for more!)

Noah_cooking

Let me give you an example. Noah came home from school two weeks ago and said he wanted to join Jazz Band, even though there were only 4 weeks for him to do it, even though he won’t be here for any concerts. He just wanted to do it.

Noah has been amazing. He joined a STEM Science club, Speech and Debate Club, and Jazz band. I should have had more faith in him when I planned this trip.

Oh well. Off to the lab.

Inevtiable

As you may recall, when I got to Michigan I found out about the sorry state of the STRAVA world here. I rode my mountain bike on the road and discovered, well that the Michigan roadies were not stepping it up. I went out and took the KOM on a road segment by riding hard and then I put my challenge out there. Someone has got to be able to go faster than me on a mtb!

Well it was bound to happen. Inevitable. I got the dreaded “notification” from STRAVA. “Oh no, you lost you KOM”.

That didn’t take long. Wonder how much time got taken out of it.

Then I looked. And I looked again. It’s a 10 minute flat time trial type section. The new KOM took 1:10 off of my best time. All I could do was sigh. 10-15 seconds I could probably find that. But on my 36×11 geared 2.2″ wheeled bike I was pretty much spun out. The new KOM averaged 25.1 mph. Me? 22.0 mph. That’s it. Top end. Wrong tool for the job. Though I do think that 22.0 mph is a pretty decent pace on a mtb.

Time to find something more appropriate for a mtb. Time to go back to that little hill sledding hill I found and see what I can do there.

Inevitable.

Picture of the Day

Michigan morning-1

“Sunrise”

Fall

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the smell of the woods in the fall. The earthy dirt/leaf smell the woods take on. The colors. The sound of falling leaves. Have you ever sat quietly in the woods and listened to the leaves fall? They make an impressive amount of noise when they hit the ground. If you haven’t done that you should. Maybe instead of stopping to “smell the roses” you should stop to “listen to the leaves”!

As a bike rider, fall is the time of the year when you get bonus special rides in. You know when the warms returns for just one more day and you get in a downright comfortable ride, when you know full well how lucky you are.

Fall is a difficult time for me. My racing is winding down and so its hard to convince myself to go out and really push and suffer. But that’s OK because it gives me time to remember to ride just for fun.

Fall is also a difficult time if you like mountain biking. See those leaves that make the really nice smell and the loud sound when they hit the ground, well they are hitting the ground. And then another one does. And then another. And then another. You get the idea.

I went riding a week ago Friday on the trails I have been using here in Michigan and there were leaves on them. Not a huge amount and so it was still fun fun. But during the night it was blustery. And when I went back on Saturday the trail was covered with leaves.

Leaves pose two problems. When they are wet, they are slick. And when there is enough on the trails they obscure things like rocks and roots. Things you should be seeing when your coach reminds you to “look ahead on the trail” to avoid obstacles. They can obscure the trail itself. Have you ever been riding on a leaf covered trail and realized that you are so NOT on the trail anymore?

When I went out on Saturday the trails were pretty much closed out. Riding on them was an exercise in being careful and cautious. It wasn’t fun. It’s hard to trust a lean in a corner when you don’t know if your wheel will hit or bounce off a rock. And so now I am pretty much limited to the road on my mountain bike, which is OK for a workout, but lacking in the fun of trail riding, or ripping it on a road bike.

Still I love fall (and those pesky leaves!).