Baby Takes Another Step

Freshly moved in and genuinely happy redhead.

Freshly moved in and genuinely happy redhead.

I’m at real peace and afraid at the same time.

The last few weeks have required some adjustment.  It is more quiet around my house, a lot more time to relax and do my own thing.

I miss her so much.  So very much.  Yet I am also happy, proud, excited to see my little girl toddle out on her own.  It just seems like yesterday when she was a tiny little springy haired redhead who curled up under my arm next to me on the couch while I read her favorite books to her.

Three weeks ago, on a Friday morning, I woke up at 2:45, showered, then finished getting the family van ready for a trip to northeastern Indiana.. move in and welcome day for freshmen at Taylor University. Miriam and Alyssa had finished packing what was left to pack while I attempted to sleep the night before. ‘Attempted’ is the key word there because I did not sleep much.  There was very little left to put in the van except for the cool bicycle I had rehabbed for Alyssa, a balloon tired cruiser bike with white walls, wrap around handlebars, fat seat, and wicker handlebar basket.  My mom gave the bike to Alyssa and it was in bad shape when we got it.

This was my mom's bike and it took quite a bit of TLC to restore it.  Alyssa really wanted this bike for college!

This was my mom’s bike and it took quite a bit of TLC to restore it. Alyssa really wanted this bike for college!

We set off at 4:15 AM, turning back twice as first Mir forgot a set of bed sheets, then Alyssa forgot her sleep mask. Dad had two opportunities to exercise patience and I think I succeeded nicely. Both Alyssa and Mir sank into a deep sleep as I drove through a deluge that enveloped the Chicago area, my hands tight on the wheel with fright as the sideways rain coupled with darkness made visibility practically nil.  I am not sure I have ever been so glad to see dawn’s light.  As we navigated the highway south of Chicago, the rain stopped and the clouds rolled away.  Driving south on I-65 towards Lafayette, Indiana I groaned as dark clouds loomed on the horizon.  Torrential rain soon greeted us, the roads partially flooded as our van turned east from Lafayette.  At times we hit water so deep that I am surprised we made it across.

We did.  We made it to the university with plenty of time to spare.

“Let’s not go in yet.  Want to get some breakfast?”

My daughter didn’t sound unhappy, but I think that maybe she wanted a little more time as our little girl.  When our van crossed into the dorm parking lot, our little girl was going to graduate to our young woman.

She has been ready to become that young woman for a while.

That storm brought hot, steamy temperatures with it.  I counted my lucky stars as two student leaders from Alyssa’s dorm wing greeted us and led us to her first floor dorm room.  Sweat soaked fathers shuffled up the stairs past us as they moved their daughters into their second and third floor rooms.  Leslie, Alyssa’s room mate, had arrived earlier in the day but was away when we got to the room.

I left Alyssa and Miriam in the room to begin bringing things in from the van while they began to plan how the beds and furniture would be arranged in the room.  The beds, dressers, shelving, and desks were all stackable.  A large armoire for each girl could be moved any where in the room.  Moving Alyssa’s things in would only be half of the task.  Leslie’s dad and I were going to have some work to do moving that furniture around.

Leslie and her parents arrived shortly after we got to the room, a couple around our age.  Their daughter is their youngest of three children, all attending Taylor.  Her parents had already found out a few things about Miriam and I, asked me if it was right that I had graduated from Ozark Christian College.  They were excited to find out that I had indeed graduated from Ozark.  All four pastors on staff at their church were Ozark graduates and I had attended school at the same time with two of the pastors.  It was cool to talk to them.

And not so cool to sweat with them.  Did I mention that the dorm is not air conditioned?

The room came together nicely, our two girls working together nicely to decide on the best arrangement.  Alyssa had planned well for her move, much of her things ready in plastic bins that we stored underneath her bed.  She had purchased a set of bed risers that have built in USB connectors and electric outlets, the risers adding another twelve inches to the height of Alyssa’s bed.  Leslie’s dad shared a lot as we worked together on the room and as we watched the ladies decorate.  He told me something that made leaving my daughter so much easier, changing my perspective in such a good way.

“My other two children came away from Taylor so much better because of this place.  It’s safe, a healthy environment where your daughter is going to grow not only in knowledge but spiritually.  She is going to be ready for the world.  Once I saw that in my kids, I never shed a tear again when I had to leave them.”

He was right and I knew it.  The lump in my throat left as I heard that.

I also realized that I was ready for my girl to leave the nest.  It has nothing to do with wanting her out.  She is a gift to me, my daughter, the girl who wants to please her father, the reason for so many smiles the last eighteen years.  No, I knew I was going to miss her.  That is a given.  The reason I was and am ready for her to leave is that I know she is ready.  This girl is going to succeed and I can not wait to see that happen.

Alyssa and Miriam fretted over the room as I sat out in the hall, a spectator.  They hung twinkling lights from the ceiling over her bed and attached to the wall, pictures pinned to the wires.  The duvet on her bed matched her room mate’s, their planning prior to move paying off.  Before I knew it, the room was ready and we had met many of the girls our Alyssa would be living amongst.

We went to our hotel.  Showered and changed.  Took Alyssa to get her student ID and picture.  Had dinner off campus, then returned for a chapel dedication ceremony.  Alyssa went to the ceremony with her new friends, promised to meet us there, but she was late and did not sit with us.  I could tell Mir was disappointed.  I was too but, well, kind of happy at the same time.  She was not having a hard time at all.  After the dedication service, parents went to a dessert reception while the students went to mandatory dorm meetings.

Then we went back to the hotel without our daughter.  Strange.  It felt very, very strange to be alone together without our daughter.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we had left Nate at home because he had a golf meet on Saturday.  He called Miriam while we were at that dessert reception.  Crisis.  He had accidentally put a divot in the golf green at practice that day.. and was suspended from the golf tournament the next day.  So although it felt strange to be alone without our daughter, I had the familiar ring of crisis while I listened to my wife try to deal with Nate’s crisis from our hotel room.

I felt bad, I really did.  I was also really tired.  I think Miriam forgave me for falling asleep.

The next day was short.  We were expected to leave after lunch.  The school had activities and games planned for the new students at 1 PM.  We met Alyssa at her dorm after breakfast, where I helped her friend Kate set up a wireless printer.  We took Alyssa to the campus employment office to fill out paperwork, then spent some time with her before lunch in the school’s dining commons.

Lunch.  Our final meal with her.

Alyssa excitedly told us about us about the mandatory dorm meeting the night before.  Her dorm wing had met their brother dorm wing and took what was called an ‘Awk Walk” with them across town to get a soft drink together.  The town Taylor University is in, Upland, is very small.  During the walk, each girl had to walk hand in hand with a guy while they each answered a question.  When the question was answered, they switched partners until they had to chance to meet each boy.  Yes, my daughter liked that.  I might be afraid of what might be coming next.

Our daughter could not wait for lunch to be over.  She stood up, hugged each of us, turned and left for the planned activities.  That was it.  No tearful goodbye.  Mir was disappointed.  That was not what she expected.  Somehow I was not surprised.  I could not hide my smile.

We drove back to Chicagoland that afternoon through more rain, a storm so bad that we didn’t have opportunity to cry.  Mir went right to work on Alyssa’s room when I got home, the tears rolling as she straightened up the empty room.  That was tough for me too, seeing that empty room.  It will never be the same.

I go to her room a lot now.  Sit on her bed.  Look at the posters on the wall.  The window curtains are open all the time now, sun and moon shining in, remind me of the space that is there.  Yeah, I miss my daughter but I am glad she is gone, at such a good place.  I am comforted and I like the space in her room.  She is still there.  Always will be.

Sunday morning was the next morning after we returned.  Our morning, the time special, when Alyssa goes with me to Panera for breakfast before church.  I had to go there.  Our favorite girl, Kaitlyn, asked about Alyssa when she took my order.  I took a selfie with Kaitlyn and tagged Alyssa when I posted on Facebook.  Alyssa was waiting for that tag and I smiled as she commented right away.  She was there with me.  Always will be.  Sundays are when I miss her the most.  Sundays always began with my daughter and ended with my daughter.  Every Sunday night ended when I picked her up at the mall from work, stopped for a drink at McDonalds on the way home, talked about our day.  Sunday was my day with Alyssa, the day of my daughter.

Smart phones have changed things.  We keep in touch.  She sends me pictures.  I don’t have to wait for a letter.  But I couldn’t wait until I got my paycheck — I took the afternoon off, wrote a letter to Alyssa, and sent the letter off with a few twenties in it.

Mir is doing surprisingly well.  Thank god for cell phones.  We are doing well.  Thank god for cell phones.

The boy is next.



I Could Get Used To This

Quiet.  Solitude.  Free time.

I could get used to this. 

Miriam’s sister from Alaska, Betty, arrived Saturday night along with her youngest daughter, Inga.  Inga is a little bit older than my daughter, Alyssa, and she is here to attend a flute convention in downtown Chicago with Alyssa.  Nate left Monday morning with several of his friends from the high school golf team for a few days of golf and boating at a friend’s family vacation home at some lake in Michigan that starts with a T. 

All I know is that I have had the house to myself every evening this week.  It has been just me, Nick the Sheltie and Chester da Orange Cat.  Miriam has been off galavanting with her sisters all week.




What does dad do when the kids and spousal unit are gone?  Monday night I rode my bicycle until it got dark.  I had the Xbox to myself on Tuesday night.  I got home from work, made myself a magic omelette with our Magic Bullet, then starting shooting.  Call of Duty called my name.  Before I knew it, the clock said 11:30 PM.  Alyssa wasn’t at her convention yet, got home then, smiled and shook her head silently when she walked in the room.

“Have you been playing that game all night, dad?”


She just laughed and went upstairs to bed.

Last night I decided that the Xbox would not win.  I set out on my bicycle as soon as I got home and had one fantastic ride.  After riding my 25 mile circuit, I decided to go out for another 14 miles.  It was a cool night, barely a breeze, and I felt better at 25 miles than I had when I started.

And a friend of mine, a friend who runs and cycles, was celebrating her birthday.  Earlier in the day, I wished her a happy birthday on FB, told her that I normally ride a mile for each day of my life to celebrate my birthday. 

Can anyone guess how old she was yesterday?  This is a picture of my bike computer when I finished my ride last night, the picture I posted on my friend’s FB in honor of her birthday!  Funny thing is, had it not started to get dark, I felt as if I easily could have gone another 39.

I could get used to this.

Sometimes celebrating a friend's 39th birthday can be strenuous!

Sometimes celebrating a friend’s 39th birthday can be strenuous!

I just finished up a great week of bicycling, one of the best I have had in a while.  Early in the season, late February and early March, I was stoked for the coming months of cycling and ignored the gales of winter that persisted late into March around here.  Every chance I got, whether it was cold and icy, I was out on my bike.

Then the rush of golf season also hit, meaning that Nate wanted me out on the course with him every day.  And trips for work took me away from my bikes.  June was a wet month, making it near impossible to get out on the dirt trails for my much needed variety of rides — I can’t ride just the road any more.

July brought me back to the bike.  The bike is my refuge, my quiet time, the time where my mind clears and I can process so much.  That is why I prefer solitary rides over group rides, although I need the rush of competition those group rides bring now and then.  There is a peace that the rhythm of pedals turning, breathe synchronized with the steady pumping of my legs, blood moving throughout me, the concentration of mind and body working together.  Survival.

July also brought me closer to another turning point in my life.  I took a step further, the last step before making one of the most serious decisions of my life.  This is the year for life change, it appears.  Will I make it there?  I don’t know.  I am a month or two away from where that step might take me.

Enough of that kind of talk, however.  My week of biking brought me other more light hearted revelations, nothing new if you are familiar with the world of cycling, but fresh perspectives for me nonetheless.

Five days in a row on the bike — three spectacular road rides that filled me with confidence with the strength I discovered in myself and my body, two frenetic mountain bike rides on the dirt singletrack at my favorite mountain bike park (Saw Wee Kee in Oswego, Illinois).  That was my week, this morning my body both tired and newly strong from just the right amount of exercise.

With the variety of riding road and off road in the same week, I am reminded of the difference in culture between road cyclists and mountain bikers.

Mountain bikers haul their bicycles to the trails.  Trails for the normal individual rider are usually not out the front door.

A road cyclist finds their ‘trail’ when they go outside and only haul their bicycle if to join a group ride far enough away that it is not practical to ride to the start.

Roadies are inclined to spandex and groups of riders, sharing the work in a paceline.

Mountain bikers don’t usually ride in large groups.  It is safer not to.

My experience lately is that the mountain bike crowd is a relaxed bunch.  I found myself sharing a cold beer (or two) in the parking lot at the end of my two mountain bike rides this week.  I’m not sure that I ever have done that after a road ride.  Both times the beer was cold, pulled out of a cooler in the back of the car, the beer brought with the intention to share.  We sat leaning against a bike or on the tailgate of a car, sharing our favorite stories from our ride that day or just plain stories from our life.

Last night, after riding a little more than two hours, I rolled off the trail head satisfied and soaked with sweat, dirty and ready to call it a day.  As I pulled up to the back of my car, another car pulled into the trailhead parking lot.  It was Robb, a guy more than twenty years younger than I, a guy who I had enjoyed a few trail rides with after I sold him my old Spinergy Rev X wheels last year.  Robb has raced and I know he is a good rider from those trail rides last year.  He jumped out of his car, greeted me by my first name and like an old friend, introduced me to the friend he brought along with him to ride the trails.

“You done riding or you ready to ride some more?”  Robb asked in one of the most laid back ways I have encountered around here, “There’s a beer or two waiting for you when we’re done!”.

Hard to turn that down.  I knew I had a little left, not sure I had enough left to ride at the speed these guys were going to ride, but I was going to try.

At the top of one of the hills inside Saw Wee Kee park last night.  This picture does not give justice to how steep the trail is.

At the top of one of the hills inside Saw Wee Kee park last night. This picture does not give justice to how steep the trail is.

An hour and a half later, I had found out it is possible to sweat more.  I also had kept up, a lot of keeping up due to knowing the trails than ability.  We had a great time on the trails, chatting and stopping occasionally to rest.  As we rolled off the trails into the parking lot my body was tired in a very satisfying way, if that makes sense, aching but not painful, fatigued but not wasted.  It is hard to describe how good that felt.  A cold bottle of beer feels very good when it is held against the forehead, the cold beer so refreshing when you know you have earned it.  No one was in a hurry to leave, folding chairs pulled out of Robb’s trunk as we sat in the lot, sharing the company as the sun set over the river in front of us.

On a road ride there is also comraderie, usually shared during that ride more than after.  The acceptance among roadies can be the same as I have found with mountain bikers, but it just has not been as common.  There is more competition, even more snobbery in the spandex clan.  More often than not, a road rider is going to be friendly, but a road biker is going to revel in and hope for the ability to make other riders feel pain (or ‘tear their legs off’).  Unless a group road ride is agreed to be a ‘no drop’ ride (not always guaranteed) you might get left behind if you can’t keep up or have a mechanical failure, not something that happens on the trail.

I like that kind of competition some times, especially when I am strong enough to be the one inflicting the pain.

Friday afternoon, my boss encouraged me to take the afternoon off to get a ride in.  How am I to say no to a proposal like that?  So I took a ride.  The neighborhood I live in is a popular cut through for road cyclists, so much so that I rarely have to ride alone if I don’t want to.  There is always someone coming along and I will join in if the rider(s) is OK with it.  Sure enough, I turned the corner as a lone rider zipped by in the direction I was about to head.  I followed at a distance, knowing there was a stop light a few blocks up.  I wasn’t warm yet, but it was my fourth day of riding in a row and my legs would warm quickly.  The riders pace looked to be close to my comfort zone.

At the stoplight, I pulled up next to the guy, clad in a nice spandex kit, a nice carbon bike with all the right gear.  I greeted him with a friendy howdy.  The guy barely looked at me, a sneer on his lips as he looked away and straight ahead, ignoring me as we waited for the light to change.

OK, Buster.

He looked over his shoulder with a frown as the light changed, standing on the pedals to get a quick start.  Past the stop light was a long hill that crosses a bridge into a nice two mile stretch of rolling hills, perfect to stretch out.  I could tell the guy didn’t want me close, but he wasn’t fast enough to lose me.  Frankly, I could feel his attitude and it irritated me.  So I stayed ten feet back, matched his pace, laughed to myself as I watched him duck down to sneak a look now and then.  At the next stop light, I stayed behind him instead of pulling next to him and he didn’t attempt to make contact.  I let him go ahead again, this time staying closer, waiting for the hill I knew was coming up.  The guy was laboring to stay ahead, was obviously doing everything he could to stay ahead of me.

It was a mean thing for me to do.

One thing mountain biking has done for me is give me very strong climbing legs.  When I felt the resistance from the incline, I announced a pass then pushed hard past him up the hill.  He was twenty feet behind me when I crested the hill.  I left him in the dust after that.

Should I have bought him a beer?

Better support than a good bike saddle

My boss walked into my office this morning, sat down, told me he had news for me.

“It’s the summer, buddy, and people take Fridays off this time of year.  What do you have on your plate this morning?”

I gave him the run down, a list of about five things I wanted to do, plus some follow up on some good opportunities I was working on with our sales reps this week.

“Here is what I want you to do today — finish up a few of those things, then take the afternoon off to take a bike ride.  There are major storms coming in by mid afternoon, so don’t stick around past noon.  Get on that bike instead.”

Dave likes the work I have been putting in and I think he is proud that he has given me a much better environment to work in than I had the past few years.  He worked for the same company, got fired by the same guy.  He knows.

It doesn’t hurt that he thinks it’s pretty cool that I ride bikes.

And that motivates me.  156 miles this week on my road bike.  Three hours off road.  Tomorrow morning will likely be another 50 miles.  It has been a very good week for me.  I can feel it, my energy off the charts.  Had I not lost Monday to the exhaustion caused by Sunday night’s insomnia, I would have one of the best weeks on the bike that I have had in years.

Another cool thing happened Tuesday.  I got home from work with visions of a bike ride in my head.  Mir started in on me right away, trying to get me to take Nate here or there, do things with him to get him off of his video game playing butt.

“Mom, Dad has been at work all day and I bet he wants to ride his bike.  Nate can take care of himself.”

My daughter said that while handing me my bike riding clothes.  Another reason why daughters are the best ever gift to a father.

Got more stuff but this blog is already getting long.  That means another bike related blog is to follow….

This Is What Is Keeping Me Awake Tonight

Drat.  My alarm is set for 5:30 AM, an early morning get the day started right bicycle ride planned.  It is 2:24 AM as I start writing this blog, alone downstairs on the living room couch, the realization that I will be a zombie when that alarm goes off three hours from now all too clear to me.  No way am I getting that ride in.  Riding sleep deprived is not a good idea.

The couch becomes my refuge on nights like this, nights where sleep just runs away from me, my thoughts stronger than a triple shot espresso.  Thankfully these kinds of nights are few and far between.  My normal nocturnal state is a blissfully deep sleep, rest that allows me to be ready for most every day.  I am the guy who tucks himself in at 10 PM, greets the day before morning’s light appears.  That is not me tonight.

Resentment keeps me awake, deep soul wrenching resentment that has dug its claws into me so tightly that I can not send it away no matter how hard I try.  I pray.  I lean at my bedroom window to listen to the wind rustle through the leaves of the maple tree outside, usually soothing in a way that carries my cares away with the wind.  All attempts to loosen resentment’s grip are useless tonight.

Although writing does help.

Four months.

Four months I have been asking for the capacity to forgive.  There is too much to remind me of that day, the day 24 years of my life seemed to be torn out of my book, a misplaced commitment that only I valued.  In this moment, it seems like that battle has been lost, but in reality I feel like I have done very well.  Four months is not a lot of time, the wound still fresh.  There are so many reminders each day, some days more than others, that the wound continues to be opened.

A boss who was fired by the same person who fired me.  He still is very bitter and reminds me of it now and then.  Telling it to me cleanses his soul, I think.  I usually don’t join in, aware that we both need to forget.  Fueling the resentment will only make the fire grow.

Business dealings.  Early last week I attended a trade show, my former employer represented at a booth there.

Facebook, where so many friends who were coworkers are at.  A good friend was pregnant when I was fired.  She had the baby a week ago and is posting pictures. 

Today, a Sunday of all things, was a day where one thing after another reminded me of my former employer.  At church, I saw a common cycling friend of the owner, someone who started going to my church a few months ago but I had not seen until today.  We talked about the owner.  I talked as if nothing had happened, as if the man had done nothing to me.  This evening, as I reviewed my calendar for the next few months, I added a party that Mir and I are invited to next month — and I was reminded that I will have to face that owner there for the first time since I was fired.  And for the first time I felt like I would spit in his face if I saw him.  What am I going to do if and when I do see him?  That party is in a few weeks.  The bitterness has grown in the past few months as the truth of what happened not only the day of my firing and what he told me the day after — “I have had your back for years, Steve” — in the days, weeks, and years prior to that, has become clear to me.  He knew because the firing was premeditated, planned, provoked.

Tonight, when reading my bible, three printed pages stuck in my bible came to my attention.  Those three pages are the email conversation I had with the owner, someone who had called me a friend, less than two weeks before I was fired.  I should not have read those emails tonight because the betrayal was not subtle, clear as a kiss, but performed for far more than thirty pieces of silver.  I had poured my heart to the guy honestly, the only way I know how to be.

“What do you expect me to do, Steve?”

He did nothing because he knew what was going to happen.  I shared that I was not being recognized for my work that by any standard was exceptional, not just for a few days but for years.  I realize now that I was not being recognized for my hard work because two people, a director and a supervisor, were trying to build a case against me.  They had to invent that case or provoke me.  Recognizing me for hard work, for my contribution, would harm their case.  In the end, they provoked me and it worked.  It did not need to work, did not even need to happen if that owner and former friend had chosen the honorable way.

And so the resentment does not let me sleep.  I wish I could control it.  I can’t.  Not tonight at least.  By the morning’s light, it will have shrunk to nothing.  I will sleep.  It will sleep until awakened again.

What is the saying — “You can forgive but you can never forget”?


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….