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Monday, June 24, 2013

summer, here we come

I would have to say that the first week of summer vacation was a huge success.   
I feel like I should confess that I love summer vacation but it scares me a little.  I love the idea of lazy days with the girls, Popsicles in the afternoon, beach trips,  sitting on the patio with a cup of tea in the morning and no where to else to be.  Yet the reality of these stretches of days without scheduled hours to myself is that my long stretches of imagined serenity and feet-up summer leisure, is a hiccup called sibling disagreement. 
Last summer I had to lay the law with the girls. I told them they would earn all the fun things we would with good behavior.  If they fought, I would simply hang the car keys up in the key box next to the door and let them ponder their consequences in the sweaty in-land heat rather than on the breezy sand of the beach.   It worked, but it took a significant amount of energy on all of our parts. I felt like I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting like a Vegas dealer to shuffle and hand out consequences. 
It seems a year makes all the difference. 
I realize I am only one week in but so much has changed from last year.  First off, I am in a much better place.  While I don't know that I would go so far as to say I have mastered mostly single parenting, I do have a much better handle on it.  I know how to pace myself, where to plan and when to leave time open.  I can anticipate the kids' needs and their exhaustion levels better and avoid the pitfalls that used to knock me squarely off my feet. 
My ongoing internal work that began this winter also finds me in a much more peaceful, more patient, happier state of being.  I breath more, enjoy more, let go more, laugh more, play more.  I rarely yell or totally lose my cool.  The girls are responding in kind and our family life has a more buoyant, carefree and more joyful feel.
It is also very obvious to me the great strides in maturity both the girls have made.  While they still argue and tattle some, they don't seem as interested in stirring the pot just to get the other in trouble.  Ella seems to understand that this only creates more problems for her and she seems to see the bigger picture more.  If Maya says something about her that is blatantly inaccurate, she can (sometimes) shrug and I can almost hear her think the thought I've been trying to teach her:  I am bigger and I understand more.  You go ahead and think the sky is purple but if I know it to be blue than it doesn't matter.
Maya's independence has caught up with her abilities.  She can play on her own for long stretches and can do most everything she wants.  She can pump on the swing, hoist herself up to the gymnastics bar on the playset, turn on the hose and fill her basket with all the petals the garden has given up.  She has collected thousands of peony petals and strewn them all over our yard and driveway.  Yesterday morning when I got up it looked like a family of peonies had been massacred on our front lawn.
This is all to say, that with one successful week under our belts, I feel relaxed and excited about spending the summer with the girls.   I know how to drop everything and play Go-fish, how to stop what I'm doing to have a tickle fight, how to relish these little people who are at the perfect age of old enough and young enough.

Other than my very light massage schedule, the girls and I will be together.  I don't have them in any camps or classes, nothing to cramp our summer style, but that also means no built in breaks for me.  The biggest consequence of that is getting time to exercise.  Last year I was in a similar boat and found some ways to be creative about exercise.  This year is no different and the key to my success is in getting up early, really early. 
Some mornings I get up at 4 and go for a run before Sandi has to leave at 4:45.  Other days, I do some yoga and pilates in my living room.  In a pinch, I can resort to the elliptical machine.  An added benefit of getting up at 4 (which I do almost every day) is that sometimes I get 3 whole hours of quiet and two cups of tea before the girls wake up.  I don't need more motivation than that.  But I may need some under eye concealer.
Thankfully, as promised from last summer to this one, Sandi has a bit more of a normal life this summer. While she is still putting in long clinical hours and has lots of traveling still to do, she is free on the weekends and that means two wonderful things:

1. We get to have our family time back.
2. I get to ride my bike early on weekend mornings.
Biking in the early morning with no traffic, the cool air, the wildlife and the rising sun is its own reward.  This weekend I got to ride nearly 40 miles both Saturday and Sunday. 
I feel like as a family we are able to breath easier this summer. We have already had campfires, family bike rides and hikes.
We've had breakfast on the patio. 

And snacks in the clubhouse.
In other random summer news, the girls and I saw a snapping turtle:
 and Maya has determined that the peony is her favorite new flower.  At least this week.
 It is kind of like Sandi is slowly returning to normal life.  In the past 22 months, her life has been trimmed of all extraneous activity.  She rarely has gotten to do school drop off, make dinner, get a haircut on time or sit and have coffee with friends.  The few times she has cooked alongside me in the kitchen I relish her presense since this was something we always loved to do together.  Having her in the car with us doing anything feels like a victory.  This week she actually got to make the trip out to the farm with us and the kids were like, "REALLY? Mommy gets to COME WITH US?!"  It kind of makes us want to cry.


We have 152 days until graduation and Sandi has secured a job.  Every little step we take closer to the end of this journey, whether it is a trip to the farm or purchasing her cap and gown, we will celebrate for the milestone it is.  Have I mentioned lately how proud I am of her.  She is at mile 20 in a marathon and needs some endurance.  Anyone have any Clif Shots or Gu?

Here's to a super fun, carefree, playful summer absent of overtired kids and sibling fights and full of parental patience and presence.  We can do it. I know we can.

We've come a long way baby.

Summer 2008

Summer 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

Trek Across Maine 2013

 It is hard to be brief about the Trek Across Maine and today will be no exception.
I have been unable to start this post until now because there is so much to say that sometimes it is easier, in the short term at least, to say nothing at all. 
We dropped the girls off with Sandi's mom late on Thursday morning to allow ourselves time to pack and organize before boarding the bus to Sunday River at 2.  There were tears from Ella at departure and it wasn't without guilt that we drove the mile down the road to Finelli's (most amazing) Pizza and had a slice of pizza and beer.  Hey, we were going to go so we might as well have fun while doing it.
The Trek divides 180 miles over three days of riding.  Friday is the longest mileage (67) and the least steep terrain.  Saturday has less miles (58) and more hills.  Sunday is the shortest miles (55) and the most hills.  While the weekend forecast looked stunning, Friday was calling for showers and had me checking my weather app compulsively. 
Then finally it happened... Friday's icon turned from showers to clouds and eventually to sun.   And would you take a look at the perfect temperatures for riding?
I know others wouldn't agree, but for me the hardest part of the Trek is the 3 hour bus ride from Bangor to Sunday River ski resort in Western Maine.   I am very prone to motion sickness and the only way to prevent it is for me to drive.  I wasn't thinking the bus driver would be into this so I tried to sleep as much as I could.  Even turning my head to have a conversation is bad news for me. 
Sandi and I would be riding as part of the 21 member Gold's Gym Team.  I had ridden as part of this 10 person team last year (click here for that post) and we were all novices but we had so much fun. 
Thursday we had a team dinner and some team bonding at Sunday River and were in bed fairly early. We were at the starting line by 7, the atmosphere abuzz with excitement and nervous energy.  Day one is the only day that has an actual start line (done in heats to prevent cyclists from being too crowded) and the president of the American Lung Association was there to thank us and see us off.  Every single volunteer thanked us for what we were doing. 

Here's a map of day 1.  I truly didn't even get into my lower gears until after mile 50. 

 And we were off.  Apparently the significant downhill leaving Sunday River is the scene of many a cyclist pile-ups.  It was a little painful to ride my breaks but the fear of ending up in the ditch was enough to make me do it.  The morning air was chilly but a beautiful day was preparing to make a debut across the sky.
The whole time we rode I kept looking over my shoulder at Sandi thinking, wow, she is still right there...and a few miles later I would think the same thing and gratitude would wash over me that we had this time, this ride, this opportunity to something so cool and be together, working as a team every step of the way.  I feel like we have barely been able to string together more than a handful of hours at a time since she started school 22 months ago.
At every rest stop the I would thank the volunteers and they would, as last year, say, "No, thank YOU."  But I felt like I just couldn't make them understand.  I had the privilege of riding my bike while all they got to do was hold traffic signs or portion out Dixie cups of trail mix and animal crackers.  They totally seemed like they were getting the raw end of the deal. 
Neither Sandi nor I liked being in the throngs of cyclists, especially over the early, highly trafficked parts of the road.  We peddled hard and got in and out of the rest stops efficiently and soon found ourselves ahead of the pack, sometimes not passing anyone for a mile.  That is way more our style.  We flew along, enjoying the scenery and each other and when we rolled into the University of Maine at Farmington I was kind of sad and wished we could keep riding.  
We had made such good time that there were only about 10 cyclists there but the volunteers were cheering to beat the band. We stowed our bikes and went to get our luggage.  The volunteers were still unloading it and I jokingly said to one woman, "Wait, are you saying that we beat our bags here?"
She looked at me, slightly annoyed and said, "We were delayed an hour because of the accident."
This gave me pause.  We had seen a couple of state troopers fly past us with their lights and sirens blazing but we just hoped it was not Trek related.  Then she continued.  "A cyclist was hit by an 18-wheeler and died."
Oh no.  No, no, no.
Sandi and I kind of slumped to the ground, our previous flight up on cloud 9 abruptly over.   This could not be true.  We got our phones out and saw that our screens were filled with texts and calls from family and friends asking if we were okay.  Quickly, we began to collect any information we could and the Bangor Daily News had already published an article with the general detail of how David LeClair had died only 10 miles into the Trek.  Never in the history of the Trek had a cyclist every died. Apparently David was drinking from his water bottle, lost control of his bike and fell, hitting his head and ending up under the rear tires of a tractor trailer truck. He died instantly.   It was an accident in every sense of the word. 
I was riddled with relief, grief, guilt and fear.  Our finish line celebrations and the entirety of the Trek atmosphere was significantly dampened by this staggering loss.
The sun was shining bright, the DJ blaring a steady stream of high powered music and we cheered heartily for all the cyclists that made is safely from Sunday River. Somehow their safe arrival was even more cause for celebration than it had ever been before. 
As usual, the acknowledgment of the fragility of life is one that can cut you off at the knees.  It was difficult to move forward with any sense of lightness.  Organizers gave out red ribbons for people to wear in memorial of David and we vowed to be on the road as early as we could and to be even more careful about cars and passing other cyclists.
Day two dawned cloudless and crisp.  We were ready to ride.  
At about mile 5, as we were passing people and trying to find an open piece of road, we noticed there was a guy with an L.L.Bean jersey tagging along.  We turned and introduced ourselves to him (his name was Bruce) and he said he liked our pace.  So we got to know Bruce over the next many gorgeous miles of country roads snaking rivers, falls, gorges and endless acres of trees.

It turns out Bruce is one of those genuinely nice guys and we had a great deal of fun riding fast with him.
Leaving early meant that we got to the rest stops before they had been decimated by the thousands of hungry cyclists that pour through.  On the tables were neat rows of cups filled with animal crackers, chex mix, gorp and baby carrots.  There were juicy oranges and peanut butter banana sandwiches to make your mouth and body happy.  When the rest stops are crowded, I feel like a child in bustling group of adults with elbows flying at my eyes as I try to snake through the tall men to get a granola bar. 

I decided that leaving early was not only safer for riding (less traffic, less cyclists) but that I also really dig the tidy buffet of the untouched rest stop.  

Our friends Chris and Brenda, veteran Trekkers, were doing the Trek for the first time with their seven-year-old daughter, Emily.  I think this is amazing and inspiring and I admit a few times I thought better them then us.   I greatly admire the selflessness and parental generosity that go into peddling your child up large hills for hours at a time. 
Here they are coming into Colby College at the end of day 2:

After the fatality on the first day, which they passed just after the crash occurred, they were slightly panicked by the dangers of the road.  They got smart, very smart, and decided it didn't make sense to try to ride the entire course.  If it was meant to be fun, they would keep it fun.  They had a pit crew in the form of Brenda's father and they wisely skipped segments to shorten the day or lessen the danger.

What good moms.
I don't think I have been able to spend this kind of uninterrupted time with Sandi for about 2 years.  It was incredible to have her so close by, to talk to, to hold her hand or just to be near with no one else competing for her attention.  Well, except when we played duck, duck, goose with Emily but that was just fun.
 And check out this cool t-shirt:
In my opinion, day 2 has it all going on.  It is the most scenic ride of the three days and the afternoon spent at Colby College is the super fun.  There is pizza and ice cream at the finish line, live music and tent city.
Tent city occupies the sloping lawn that abuts the road leading to the finish line.  You have to have a large enough team that raises enough money to qualify for a tent at tent city.  This year Team Gold's Gym had a tent!!  (This basically means a place to hang out for the afternoon while people socialize, lay in the grass and play Frisbee.)  Due to several layers of organizational mishap, it looked like all we were going to have at our tent was us and the bottled water we got at the finish line.  Other people had grills, camp chairs and coolers full of beer.  The L.L. Bean team had a caterer.  Gritty's had beer coolers with actual taps on them.  
Then, by some miracle, two of our team's support people showed up with coolers full of beverages.  We had some snacks that Rachel, our captain, had purchased for our team and given out on the bus ride to Sunday River.  Once the finish line was closed, volunteers came and delivered us two large pizzas.  We were willing to slum it, but we didn't have to!  Our team is full of fun, spirited people who didn't need chairs or grills to have a good time.  This was the afternoon I fell in love with our team.
The American Lung Association had this brilliant social media campaign going where they wanted you to write why you ride.

After dinner, we went to a presentation called The Spirit of the Trek.   People from the ALA talk about how the Trek began and honor some of the its most seasoned veterans.  (There are some people who have done the Trek for 25 years!)  Two of David LeClair's teammates from Athena Health spoke about David and his short, but magnificent life.  Then they showed a video about the history of the ALA and what the funds raised in the Trek are used for- specifically research and education.  Seeing video of kids discussing what it is like to live with asthma and seeing pictures of their inhalers, the same ones Maya uses, thinking about Maya's airway crises, made me realize what this ride is about and why it is so important for me to be a part of it.  I cried through the whole thing.
The end of day 2 closed with drinks and live music at Colby.  Sandi wasn't so into dancing and I couldn't see myself going to sleep without one dance so I joined a group of women I had been watching all weekend-  The Awesomes Team- and danced with them.  They are so awesome they didn't mind.
Day three dawned bright and clear.  This was the day for us to wear our team jerseys and ride into Belfast together- or at least as together as our wildly varied paces would allow.
We had run a bake sale to fundraise for these jerseys as well as using them as ways to attract business donations to our larger fundraising goal.  If a business donated $200, we would put the logo on our team jersey.  Our friend, and Sandi's relative, Albert,  sponsored us with his Lobster Select business.  Looks pretty spiffy on here I think.
These jerseys were super cool looking and I was proud to have one.  However, the sizing ran much smaller than I had allowed for and I had a hard time pouring myself into my usual medium.  I felt slightly indecent and wondered if I might have a seam failure during the ride.  The only thing that allowed me to wear it was the awareness that cyclists take numerous liberties with fashion - from long socks, short jerseys and padded shorts- and that I was among friends. 

Here is a shot of Sandi wearing it:

Team photo!

Day three: get ready to climb. 
 Day three was as amazing as the others.  I could feel Sandi's exhaustion catching up to her.  We had peddled the other two days hard and she had, after all, only trained for 10 days.  We climbed and we climbed and we climbed some more.   Sandi was a rockstar on that bike and I couldn't have been prouder of her. 
As we got closer to Belfast, I was both excited and sad.  We had made it but I didn't want our amazing weekend to end. 
About two miles from the finish, cyclists can stop at a staging area and wait for their team members so they can ride to the finish as a group.  While we waited, I ate the best piece of watermelon of my life and discovered that my $100 bike shorts had met the fate of all my favorite workout bottoms.  I had blown a hole right through the inner thigh.  If I hadn't been so bummed about having to replace them, I would have been proud.  Friction is an undeniable part of endurance exercise and even synthetic fabric is not immune.
Within an hour and a half all the people that we knew would make it by noon were there and we set off for the finish line.   As we were leaving the parking lot, the road was lined with cheerleaders ringing bells, whistling and thanking us for riding.  As we wove our way through the side streets of Belfast toward the harbor, there were countless residents out in their lawn chairs cheering and thanking us as well.  I saw a man hooked up to oxygen and felt my eyes well with tears.  The Trek is an awesome ride but it is so much more than that.
Our team:

It is hard to capture the feeling of the Belfast finish line.  It seems impossible that people could be so happy for you to complete a ride that seemed like a gift all along. 
Sorry there are so many pictures of us looking happy and relaxed.  Actually, no I'm not sorry at all.

Rachel, our wonderful and devoted team captain, and her hilarious partner Robert.  These two are the heart and soul of our team.  Thank you for all you did for all of us!
As always, when you get in safely, you must check off your number.

We could  hardly wait to get our girls back in our arms.  How grateful we were to Sandi's family for taking such good care of them so we could be gone for four whole days.   The Trek raised nearly $2 million and I'm proud to say that we were a small part of that.
What is the very best thing you can do with a medal that you earn for riding 180 miles? 
I think you know.

In case you're wondering, we've already signed up for next year. Who wants to join us? 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Trek ready

All the planning, fundraising, begging and hours of peddling have paid off.  Tomorrow Sandi and I board the bus that will take us to Sunday River to ride the 180 miles in the Trek Across Maine!
We are riding as part of the Gold's Gym team of Bangor.  And it isn't going to rain at all. At least that is what I keep telling myself. I am willing the little rain icon on my iphone weather app to change to sun. I am checking in non-compulsively every hour.  It's only Friday I'm concerned with.  The weekend looks beautiful.
I would imagine that for people that aren't us, this wouldn't take so much effort.  But for us, trying to negotiate the logistical maneuvers of being without our kids for four days, making up clinical hours and trying to fundraise every last penny it costs to do the Trek as well as the actual fundraising minimum, this is no small feat.
Each rider must raise at least $500 to do the Trek.  If you don't meet the goal, you actually have to give the money yourself.  I worked hard to raise the entire $1,000 for Sandi and I.  But then a whole bunch of last minute donations came in I actually raised about $1,200!  Thank you so much to everyone who donated, big or small, to help us get there!  That is a lot of money!
Adding up the other expenses, here is what I came up with for the two of us:
Trek registration= $120 ($60 each)
bus tickets (to the start line in Bethel and from the finish line in Belfast) = $120 ($60 each)
team jerseys = $68 together (the cost after proceeds from a bake sale and a donation from the gym)
overnight lodging at Sunday River the night before we depart = $140
That totals $448.  Plus we had to take the hybrid tires off Sandi's bike in favor of road tires.  And we also have to pay for our meal at Sunday River. Other than that the Trek puts us up for free in dorm housing the other two nights and feeds us the whole way through, including lobster at the finish (for real).  It is an incredible deal really.  
Now I don't say this to discourage anyone from doing the Trek.  I say it so that I can brag to you that I also raised all of the money to cover our expenses!!  For a family of four in their twenty first month without a primary income, frivolity is not our main practice.  If we were going to do the Trek, I was going to figure out how to afford it.
First off, I put my skills to work and baked like I a mad woman for the team bake sale.

Maya and I helped with the team car wash.  We did a silent auction at the gym.  (I got some really generous donations from local businesses that I greatly appreciate!!!)  We also had a team yard sale which made me clean out my closets (and the kids their room) plus I got donations for that so I was able to recoup a lot of money for expenses there.
Then, all that remained was the fun part: riding my bike.  I have ridden and ridden and ridden some more.  I truly love to ride my bike and find such solace out there on the road, whether with people or alone.  I've ridden a bunch of times with my friend Chris and it was really nice to have company and chat the miles (and the hills) away.   I've ridden alone and loved that no one really knew where I was or could find me.  Most recently, Sandi began her training (with 2 weeks to go until the Trek, all that her crazy clinical schedule would allow) and I have gotten to ride with her.   It feels kind of illicit for us to both be out on our bikes together.  Like...ummm, isn't one of you supposed to be home with your kids?

It has been just like old times. Trish watched the girls for us last Friday so we could do the 50 mile loop to Bucksport and back.  Heaven, I tell you. Heaven.
 Then this past weekend, while Kristi was here for the weekend, we snuck out early Sunday morning and went for a 33 mile ride with Emilie.  It made me simply giddy.
I'm totally ready for the Trek.  I'm ready for the time away, I've trained hard and am now resting (ish) and I'm halfway packed.  Sandi has cranked out a ridiculous number of miles in less than two weeks and makes it look easy to just hop on a bike and ride 50 miles.
Day 1 is 67 miles.  We've got all we need.
I'm really psyched to get out on my bike and get to ride so far with the support that is the icon of the Trek Across Maine.  I'm really looking forward to the energized feel and comaraderie that is so palpable at the Trek.  But, shhhh.... don't tell anyone that the Trek is really just a way to get Sandi to myself for a few days.  The cycling is just a bonus.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

a hike, a real hike

A few years ago, many years ago, B.C. (before children) in fact, Sandi and I found ourselves hiking the charming Blue Hill, a sweet little mountain with big views.  We went up one side and down the other only to be stunned, I mean completely blown away, by the magestic lupine field in blooming spelendor at the bottom of the opposite side. 
The lupines are a wild flower (apparently non-native to Maine but as iconic of Maine as red lobster) that blooms in early June for about two weeks.  If you come to this hillside any other time of the summer, you wouldn't even know it was home to so many wild lupines.  That day all those years ago when the woods trail we were on opened to a blooming lupine field, we knew how lucky we were to see it.
Nearly every June since I have wanted to go back to Blue Hill to see the lupines.  A few times I even put it on my calender months in advance only to have the weekends of early June eaten up by something else.  But last week I mentioned it to Sandi and this past Sunday found us in a lupine field.
 Because Blue Hill is on the coast, their lupines are a bit behind ours.  I would say the field was in maybe 70% bloom.  And even given that, there seemed to be numerous plants that weren't blooming at all.  It wasn't the carpet of indigo I remember but it was lucious and wonderful just the same.

Maya had this butterfly (moth?) land on her hand and she was rivited.  She struggled to move ahead with any semblence of forward progress as she didn't want to distrubt the butterfly.  We would say, "Okay, Maya, let's keep moving up the hill!" and she would say, "I'm coming..." whilst moving millimeter-length steps and looking like she was trying not to detonate a bomb. 
Sandi and I did a lot of hiking and backpacking B.C.  It has been one of the things we have truly missed during the many year gestation of our young family.  And here we were, finally, hiking as a family on a Sunday afternoon, everyone on their own feet and of their own steam. Sure there was a little bit of  "are we there yet?" but the dangling carrot of Subway sandwiches and Smartfood popcorn to be eaten at the top kept them moving.

Ella collected this little bundle of fallen wildflowers in the field and then at every puddle we found, she would stop and place them in the water to drink.



A mountain peak is like no other place anywhere.  I am more at home on top of a mountain than I am anywhere. And it is an even more special place to share with your beloveds.   It is also a perfect way to celebrate the growth and transformation of little children into bigger ones.  It makes me less sad and more excited for all the adventures to come.

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