Tender Departure

Big brown eyes filled with the deep hearted sorrow that comes from saying good bye to a lover, a sweet parting of two, hearts joined but torn apart by the temporary physical distance imminent for weeks and finally a reality.  My own heart reached out to my coworker as I checked in on her.  Maria had to drive her boyfriend, Szillard, to the airport this morning for his return flight to Hungary.  Her dejection was so heavy as I looked at her, all I could do was smile weakly and tell her I was thinking of her, walk away hiding the tears that I could not keep from welling in my eyes.

What’s up with that?

I feel deeply for my new friend.  Maria has offered me a kindness that I don’t often feel, an acceptance that I already treasure.  Perhaps it is her Hungarian culture that allows her to be that way, certainly some of that I felt during my two weeks in Budapest this past May.  Many of the people there seem to possess a certain softness in their heart that communicates genuine concern for how I feel.  To me it felt odd, enough that I find myself trying to figure out why that feels odd to me.

Maria came to my office the morning of June 3rd, a little handled paper shopping bag in her hand.  As she gave it to me, Maria hugged my shoulders and gave me a soft little kiss on each cheek.  There was a tin of Godiva chocolates in the bag, a birthday gift for me because she had found out my birthday was June 1st.  I felt like a silly old man as I beamed over not only the thoughtfulness, but the little hug and kisses, touch I have not experienced for a while.  Now I know how special a little touch is to the elderly, not that I am in that category, but I see how much even a small gift like Maria gave to me can be.  It was simple but special, a small gesture that was given in such a sincere way, unexpected so much that it added to the appreciation I feel.  Her kindness found a tender place in my heart.

Szillard came to visit three weeks ago.  He has visited several times this year, spending as much time with Maria as possible.  Each day I wait for them to come to the office together, walk into Maria’s office to see Szillard sitting in a chair opposite Maria at her desk, their laptop computers facing each other as they work.  The bond they have is obvious, so fun to watch.  Szillard is a very personable man and I came to know him quite well during the last three weeks.  Several times a day I would get a knock on my office door, Szillard there to share something with me.  He spent a morning with me helping get some things done around my office that I couldn’t do myself, taking a trip around the area.  I was able to show him a fantastic spot to take Maria where there are magnificent gardens and flowers, an old estate now open to the public.  I think he thanked me every day after that for making the suggestion.  They went there several times.

So I knew the temporary heartbreak of this day was coming.  Yet I still feel it with tears for both Maria and Szillard.

Dang, it brings back memories of the days when I had to part with Miriam and drove away with a shoulder damp with tears, my own eyes blurred with tears.  I remember the same thing happening with the girl that was my first love.  Maybe that is why I feel for my friends today.  There is a happiness mingled with the sorrow.  I know the love that goes with that departing sorrow.  I miss that love.

How Does My Garden Grow?

My garden grows very weed-ish. I planted flowers this year but no vegetable garden. Our Spring was just not one for planting if you are a casual gardener, a designation that I will some day attain. At this point in my life, I qualify as occasional gardener only, unless marigolds count. My marigolds are doing well this year, safe from the threat of the evil uprooter Miriam, enemy to all plants.

Dang it, writing about gardening is not why I am here this morning.

This past weekend was one of those leave-the-windows-open-spend-as-much-time-outside-as-possible times, a three day holiday weekend. The weather was pleasantly cool with almost no precipitation, which means that when Saturday morning came around, I chose riding the dirt trails on my mountain bike over the grueling grind of a road ride. Mountain biking makes me feel like a 53 year old kid as I bounce around the trails, flying over the jumps. I thought about that Saturday morning while I rode, how I would have loved to have trails available to me when I was a kid like the ones I ride around here. I got off of my bicycle after three hours on the trails, wondering if I could justify another hour of riding, even though I was filthy and soaked with sweat. I asked another rider to take a picture of me in the parking lot before I left, one of those things where I just wanted to remember that I had been there that morning.

Nate had been working at the golf course while I rode Saturday morning. We spent Thursday evening on the trails at Saw Wee Kee together, a first time for Nate and the day I have hoped would happen for quite a while. Nate asked me to take him mountain biking, enjoyed it with the awe that the boy in me also has. After I finished my yardwork on Friday, Nate and I played 18 holes of golf together (as we also did last night). When Nate asks me to do things with him, I usually don’t turn him down. I have said it before that our best times together, when we treat each other like father and son, are when we do things like golf. Mountain biking could end up being the same thing. The last four days have not just been a time to spend time outside, but also a time to build on those times my son will remember spending with his dad.

I walked through kitchen door from our garage Saturday afternoon, a little spent from my three hours on the mountain bike. Nate was in the living room watching TV. He called to me as he heard the door shut behind me.

“Hey Dad, do you want to go mountain biking? I just got home but I will be rested enough in an hour or so.”

The smirk on my face as I walked into the living room, a permanent fixture on my face, was on full. Nate looked at me and just said ‘Oh’.

“Yeah, I think I could go again.” I remembered how I felt in the parking lot when I got off of my mountain bike. Yeah, I was a bit tired, but I wanted to ride with my son and I knew I would find the energy to ride with him.

So we went out to Saw Wee Kee to ride the dirt trails again Saturday evening, another three hours of riding. The A & W root beer on the way home was cold and sweet, a stop that could become ritual for Nate and I should our mountain bike rides continue. A light rain had begun to fall, cooling us as we walked around the classic cars that had gathered for cruise night at the A & W.

Yesterday afternoon, before I walked out to the garage to take Nate golfing, I paused to deliver a little message to Miriam. She encourages Nate to go golfing, as she had done yesterday, and to ride bicycles. He needs to be active, lose the weight he has put on. I looked at her and whispered – “You know that golfing is not really what I wanted to be doing today”. She nodded in agreement that she understood. Honestly, I wanted a quiet day to putter around the house, clean the garage, straighten things up, finish that laundry room door project that has been waiting for me. Mir doesn’t often understand me, but this was a time I know she did.

If there is anything I want to happen in my life, it is for people to take a look at my son and say that he is just like his father — and mean that in a very good way. That affects pretty much everything I do, adds an aspect to every success or failure or action in my life. When I lost my job, one of my first thoughts was about how my actions would affect my son, what lesson he would learn from them. If a curse word slips out in front of him, I wonder how that is going to affect him. He definitely reminds of my shortcomings. But I also think about the positive things affect him — my faith in God, exercise and sleep habits, approach to alcohol and other substances (I don’t smoke, rarely drink and never in front of him), my choices for entertainment and what makes me laugh. My desire to provide a positive image to my son, to my children, even has helped me to stay with Miriam during the times when I would rather leave and pursue a relationship better for me. I realize the positive list is a lot longer than I might think, much longer than the negatives. I realize that what I list as positives now are not likely what he will remember years from now.

What he will remember is the time that I have spent with him. That time invested will be the cement in our relationship that will bring him to me when he needs me. It might even be what helps him to become a good man. Anyone who has read my blog knows the struggles I have had with him, the worries that I have. I know he has what it takes to be a very good man, however. I know what I was like when I was his age, know I had my own issues, know also what my own father remembers about those issues. If Dad remembers them, he doesn’t let on. And I know what I remember about him. It is the time he spent with me, continues to give to me, the example that he was and is. I am not even sure what his shortcomings were, if there were any….

The Boy Wants to Mountain Bike

I have tried to be patient, not force my son to do something simply because I want to do an activity with him. When he was younger it was easy. Nate likes sports, so he sought me out to play catch with him, kick a soccer ball around, shoot hoops in the drive way, knock a tennis ball around. When he picked up golf, I became the guy who helped support his addiction and most often his golfing partner. Some of the activities he still does, some (baseball, for instance) have lost interest with him. He is blessed with some ability, better than average hand to eye coordination, and a strong body.

Nate has never really wanted to ride a bicycle with me. He has been out on a road bike with me once, struggled when he expected to leave me in the dust. I have had him on dirt trails, on a mountain bike, a few times. He liked it but was scared.

Lately he has been looking up mountain bike videos on the internet. Nate has been asking about riding. He just called. He wants to ride tonight.


Priority Shifted With Opportunity

Last evening was picture perfect — cool temperatures, slight breeze, sunny with green landscapes abounding as our trees and plants benefit from the bountiful rain of the past few weeks.  Work was one of those days that moved along at a pleasant, manageable clip.  As late afternoon approached I found myself looking forward to mounting my road bicycle for a nice spin around the open spaces of west suburban Chicago.  My plan was to change into my cycling clothes as soon as I got home, avoid the call of the couch lest I succumb to its siren song, put in a few hours of sweet sweat.

Nate was parked in front of the TV, feverishly working the video game controller to extinguish increasingly pesky video zombies.  A large part of his free time since school ended for the summer has been devoted to perfecting his gaming skills.  Also occupying his time, daily, is golf.  To his credit, he did not give up golf after a disappointing start to the summer season, instead determination to improve has taken over.  That is his personality, one of the reasons individual sports such as golf or tennis are more his cup of tea than a team sport like baseball.  His success is based on his performance.  My son would rather work against himself.  Good for him, I say, since that will hopefully teach him lessons to take into life as he learns to take responsibility for his own actions.  He sorely needs to learn that.

Without looking up as I walked into the room, Nate asked evenly, “Do you want to play golf tonight, Dad?”.

My plan for the evening changed immediately.  No way am I giving up that opportunity.  I think I have said this before — the golf course is where Nate and I relate to each other the best, where he treats me like his father rather than his opponent (so normal for a teen, I know). 

Last night was no exception.  Maybe it was the perfect weather.  Maybe it was just the way things went for the both of us because it was as if both Nate and I were being rewarded for our efforts of late, a blessing of good fortune bestowed on us.  I golfed better than I ever have, well enough that Nate was openly showing his appreciation.  Nate’s game suddenly came together, back to what it had been last year (which was very good) and better. 

“Kind of see what is important about this game, eh?  You have to stay with it or it doesn’t stay with you.  Your practicing is paying off.”

A good evening and a good opportunity.  Yeah, I could have spent the evening by myself on my bike, perhaps more relaxing to me.  Perhaps not.  I even got a bonus from Nate last night.  While we were unloading our golf clubs from the back of my car, Nate noticed my new bicycle rack, asked about it.  Then he told me he wants to go mountain biking with me soon.

Really?  Wow.


Take That You Stinking Rain Clouds

Last night presented a few hours of dirty revelry for me.  Ooooooh boy did I get down and dirty, nasty filthy.  Conditions were a tad wet, slick in spots, but quite pleasurable.  So satisfying was the experience that I went back in for more, three times to be exact.  My stamina was strong even in the hot, steamy conditions.  After the second time, a friend joined me.  He noticed that I had found the flow and wanted to follow me in.  By the time I was done I had worked up quite a sweat.


I laughed at the large, dark clouds approaching from the west last evening and decided to take my lonely mountain bike to my favorite trail system, Saw Wee Kee Park (check out the link, even has a trail map).  Saw Wee Kee is good for a quick evening dirt jaunt, the whole system easily rideable in less than an hour.  CAMBR, the organization that develops and maintains the trail system, posts trail status on their web site.  Last night status was still posted as red, meaning the trails were closed, still too wet to ride.  I went there any way as the last status was from last Saturday.  Saw Wee Kee always dries faster than the other trails around here.  If the trails were muddy, I would turn around and go home for a ride on my road bike.  The threatening storms ran out of energy with sun winning out.  It was a bit hot and humid, actually perfect conditions for riding a bike.  That also meant that the trails would dry out faster.

One of the regulars was cruising into the parking lot from the trail as I pulled up.  He assured me that the trails were indeed OK to ride, not ideal, but I would not be doing any damage to the trail by riding.  Etiquette is never to ride if the bike is leaving a mark on the trail.  Really it is just a common sense rule, as most rules are in my not so humble opinion. 

Of course, I forgot to bring something with me on this trip to the trail as I had done a week or so ago.  This time I could ride, though.  I failed to bring socks with me, so I was riding sock commando.  All I had to do was cinch up the straps on my riding shoes a bit tighter.

It felt so good to get on the bike again.  My last ride was two weeks ago so I was a bit tentative, nervous that I would be rusty.  If I was then I didn’t feel it.  That was part of my motivation to ride dirt trails on the mountain bike rather than road on the racing bike.  On the road my performance is more noticeable because I know how fast I am going by the speedometer on the bike computer.  The mountain bike does not have a computer.  Riding a mountain bike is more about skill, even more about fun.  Riding the mountain bike was a perfect way to get back after a long period of inactivity.

My typical ride starts from parking lot #2, through the Bobcat and Cat’s Tail, up the Lolligagger to the Jack Rabbit.  That is where the real fun starts as the Jack Rabbit offers up some quick twists, turns, drops and rises.  From there I take the Devil’s Dip back to the Colossus, then loop back from where I came from.  There is now a very challenging trail in between the Jack Rabbit and Doppelganger, so I take that back towards the front of the park where I ride the fast drops in the Concession Stand before riding the fast moving Vertical Velocity, Boulderdash, Screamer, and Anaconda trails.  Occasionally I venture over to the Kentucky Rumbler that has a small technical section of trail that is a good warm up.  Once I am done with Anaconda, I either loop back into the park or visit the Wildcat and Timberwolf trails, then take a break in the parking lot.  When I say that I went back in three times, that means I came back to the parking lot then went back for another loop three times.

If I was a smoker, I would have lit one up when I was done….




Chicagoland, Yes, It Is My Fault

I am about to curse the weather in Chicagoland for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  Why, you ask?  I will tell you why.

I am about to go home and put on my cycling clothes, then roll my bicycle out of the garage.  Shortly thereafter, rain will ensue.

The last two weeks have seen my cycling cursed.  Every chance I get to ride has either been preempted by rain, a family commitment that either I forgot about or that came in with the clouds, or my insane commitment to making sure the yard work gets done.

This afternoon is hot (close to 90 F) and partly sunny.  It rained a little yesterday, basically right after I rolled out of my driveway at dawn for a bike ride, but not enough that the dirt trails will not be rideable later on this afternoon.  My plan is to break the two week drought with a dirt trail ride for a few hours.

Why are there dark clouds gathering at my office ceiling?

Finally, I Can Relate To My Teen

I wonder how many times in my life that I have felt like giving up?  Heck, it might be easier to figure out how many times that happens in one day.  Discouragement, inadequacy, fear of failure are all natural and something that one needs to learn to deal with as they mature.  Life is full of ventures into the unknown, expectations that seem unattainable.  Yet we make it, we survive, even succeed despite ourselves, the will to continue on without giving up a key to most successes.  Those successes are how we learn.

My son wants to be the best at everything he does.  At 15, that is a tough goal, especially since that boy has not learned to do the work to accomplish his goal for success.  Oh, he puts out the effort in short spurts, but wears down quickly as discouragement drags him down.  He just does not have the experience to see things through.

Forget listening to dad.  Dad says to stick it out, put in the hard work, see what happens in the future.  Forget that.  My boy wants it now.  Vehemently.  Often with an impatient rage that stems from discouragement that spirals out of control and takes over.  Irrationality sets in.

And makes him want to give up.

Last night Nate lamented that he wants to quit golf.  He played a tournament on Thursday and Friday, then again last evening.  None of the three were a success.  Nate struggled with his irons, previously a strength of his.  Reminding him of how well he has done in the past, how much he has progressed already this year (the kid can drive 250-275 yards straight up the fairway, consistently) does not help, nor does it help to remind him of the inconsistencies any golfer has to deal with.

“I want to play football, Dad”

Nope.  We have already shelled out too much money for golf this year.  Football will take even more and likely with less results.  My experience says that if he quits now, he will regret it when he (finally, if ever) makes it to adulthood.  I quit the varsity basketball team my senior year of high school with just a few games left in the season, something I regret if only because I let myself do something I don’t like to do — quit.  I am never going to encourage my son to quit.

That really is not easy to do.  I do not always lead by example, but often I do.

I wish my son could fast forward to being an adult, so I could tell him about the challenges I face every day, the possible discouragements that seek to take me over.  He is not going to understand them now.  If I could tell him how I feel doing a job I often don’t feel qualified for but know I have to keep doing, simply because that little voice that tells me to give up is covered up by a larger voice that reminds of what I do well, the strengths that I have.  I wish I could tell him about the discouragement I feel when he lambasts me for not giving him that smart phone he wants or the expensive golf lessons or the premium cable TV package.. the list goes on.. and how I wish I could just give him everything he wants, yet I know he will learn nothing and not mature beyond an entitled child if I did give him everything.  I wish him how hard it is to hold on to marriage when it feels like nothing is given in return, when I can’t see the benefits of holding on.

Then again, maybe he needs to learn that lesson.  There are times where the best thing to do is quit.  For example, I likely held on to my last job far longer than I should have.  The same might apply to my marriage.  If I think about it long enough, had I learned to quit when I should, my life might be a whole lot different, maybe better.

I know that is not right.  He should never quit.

Maybe I should think more about this one….




Big Ones or Just Plain Stupid?

Sooner or later everyone must face that monster in their closet.  I am not about to make a confession, so a large gasp is not necessary here, although confessions are probably going to be rampant in the Chicago area this weekend as many closets will indeed be opened.  It’s the Pride parade this weekend.  No, I am not going to attend that spectacle.

Geez, I got sidetracked after the first sentence, that is a record even for me.

I received a phone call at work shortly before noon today, one I have known for a few weeks I could possibly receive. 

“Steve, can I stop by at one this afternoon?  I have an appointment to see Magnetrol about that little QC problem they are having with our product.  Can you go with me?”

Yes.  It happened.  The company I work for now provides several products to my former employer.  There was a unit rejected there recently.  My job was to determine what the problem might be.  I tracked it down and our area sales representative wanted me to go with him to review the QC procedure, with the quality tech at my former employer there to demonstrate their test to me.

Can you imagine the thoughts running through my head?  I would be walking in the front door of a building I was escorted out of, thrown out of, less than two months ago.  Would there be a fight?  Would I be told to leave?  Would I be inundated with surprised excoworkers who never got to say good bye to me?

The visit did not happen, but it likely still will happen.  The QC tech was not working this afternoon.


I was both dreading and relishing the visit.


Komedy of Erorrs


Thunderstorms were supposed to happen today with the morning looking dreary, dark clouds looming over head and a strong wind gusting through the leaves of the maple tree outside my bedroom window.  Even though the odds of an overnight storm were in the favor of the rain gods, not a drop had fallen during the night.  Hot, humid weather had been pushed ahead of the storm front.  I awoke to the weak morning light, rolled over again as I observed the weather outside my window.  No bike ride for me today, I thought to myself as I drifted back to one of those dreamy half awake sleeps.  Thunderstorms were a sure thing the entire day as well as the remaining week.

A sunny blue sky greeted me as I left the building this afternoon at three thirty.  YES!!  I had an appointment with an investment analyst to finalize the transfer of my retirement account from my previous employer’s investment service to the one I had chosen.  The time consuming tasks had been taken care of in a meeting with the analyst last week, today’s meeting just a formality with only a few forms to sign.  Freedom was sure to follow, with visions of dry dirt mountain bike trails dancing through my head.  It had been a productive work day, my revelry earned, the satisfaction sure to add to the joy of the ride.

I — could – not — wait.

The anticipation felt like Christmas and my wedding night rolled into one (let’s face it girls, and I have to say this, most guys ain’t looking forward to the ceremony so much as what follows the ceremony — and at 53 years young a bike ride is like sex to me).

Maybe that is what made me a stinking muddle headed, scatter brained dimwit this afternoon.  I whistled a happy tune to myself as I changed into my new mountain biking clothes, the kind that do not look like spandex and more like regular shorts and a tee shirt.  The cool bike rack I have for my car installed easily, the familiarity now second nature to me.  My bike shoes, helmet, gloves, hydration pack were on the driveway next to my car, ready to be loaded in after I put my bike on the rack.

And that is where they stayed as I drove off to the mountain bike park.




I was ten minutes away on the toll way before I realized that I had my bike and some socks, but my other necessities for the ride were still where I had set them on the driveway.  Oh well, I thought, not a big deal, what’s a few extra minutes.  I will still get an hour or so on the trails.  I licked my wounds, turned around, and drove back to retrieve the forgotten items.

Ahhhhh, the music was fine on the way there, until I looked in the rear view mirror and realized I had not secure the bike rack as I should have.  The support arm had moved out of position and the rack was being held to the car by the straps.

Oops.  A quick stop once I exited the tollway remedied that.  Not a big deal.  There had been no danger of the rack falling off.  Besides, the park was just a few short minutes away.  I would be bombing along the dirt trails in short order.

I was ecstatic as I parked my car at the trailhead, quickly putting my shoes and gear on and unloading my bike from the rack.  A pleasant fellow rolled up next to me, fresh from a good ride with a report that the trails were perfect tonight.  Oh yeah.  This was going to be good.  He asked me about the VW TDI diesel I was driving, complimented the car with the appreciation that comes from wanting the same car.  That felt good and I pedaled away towards the entrance to the trails with a satisfied grin on my face.

Why was my right cleat not clipping in to the pedal?  My pedals always work perfectly, but for some reason the spring loaded pedal was not engaging the cleat.


Did I mention that somehow I was more dimwitted and scatter brained than my usual state?  How about that the shoes I use to ride my road bike are made by the same manufacturer as my mountain bike shoes?  I liked the road shoes so much that I bought the mountain bike version of the shoe.  The shoe looks the same, but the soles and cleats are different.  My road cleats will not work with the pedals on my mountain bike.  You already know what happened.  I had picked up one of each when I left the house, did not even notice the difference in shoes as I put them on, so happy to ride was I.

As I left the parking lot, my mountain bike still clean as it hung from the rack on the back of my car, a favorite Kansas song (Miracles Out of Nowhere) both taunted and comforted me, lyrics haunting with a message meant for me:

Hey there Mister Madman, what’cha know that I don’t know
Tell me some crazy stories, let me know who runs this show
Glassy-eyed and laughing, he turns and walks away
Tell me what made you that way

Here I am just waiting for a sign
Asking questions, learning all the time
It’s always here, it’s always there
It’s just love, and miracles out of nowhere

Argggghhhhhh.  No ride for me tonight.  No ride in the morning either as I get the privilege of going out to coffee with my lovely daughter before work in the morning.

Who wants to bet it rains tomorrow, all day?