Fatty

My new ride, purchased from a friend.  I rode it with him last week and loved the ride.  He offered me a price I couldn’t refuse, threw in the 29 wheelset.

fb_img_15466299742952016 9:zero:7 Fat Bike
Large / 19″
Front 26×4.5 Kenda tire
Rear 26×4.0 On-One Fatty
Carbon fork
Salsa hubs 135mm/170mm
Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes
180mm rotors
Avid Speed Dial Levers
Sram 1×9 grip X0/X9 shift drivetrain
780mm bars
Red/White/Blue reflective rim strips

ALSO… 29er wheelset… cassette and discs
Swap out the wheels and go from a fatty to a fast rolling trail bike with 700 x 38 Reflective Slicks

The bike is light, fits me perfectly, and it gives me something to ride this winter.

I have always wanted a fat bike!

 

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But What Am I?

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I had an evil thought yesterday.

Yes, just one.

Then I thought a little more about what that thought entailed.  What it really would have made me was a childish tattletale.  I may be childish, but I am no tattletale snitch, no matter who I would be telling on.

Go ahead, stick your tongue out at me.  You are rubber and I am glue.

I could play the silly snitch game if I wanted to.  The opportunity is there.  The object would deserve it.  While checking with property management yesterday to see if it would cost me if I kept my daughter’s car in my garage or driveway, I did something that some people don’t do — I checked the condo association rules and answered my own question.

VII.  VEHICLE REGULATIONS

A.  Residents are provided an easement to a garage for indoor parking and to the adjoining driveway for outdoor parking.  Guest parking spaces located throughout the property are primarily for the use of guests.  Homeowners are required to use their garages and driveways for parking.

Hold on a second… my nasty downstairs neighbor parks her car in her garage, but her husband parks his truck in a guest parking spot.  He leaves her driveway open, probably so he won’t upset her delicate psyche.  THEY ARE BREAKING THE RULES!eg

Those naughty people.  Tsk tsk tsk.

The little devil on my shoulder tempted me to say something.  After all, she has ratted me out plenty of times in less than two years.  She DESERVES it.  After all, she continues to bang on her ceiling every time she hears a noise from above, turns on her garbage disposal when she thinks I run my kitchen faucet for too long, steps outside and yells up at me when any or most things annoy her.  She DOES DESERVE it.

No, I will not play that game.

 

So what if it’s not January 1?

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Recently, I shared here that I am trying out a fitness app and using the diary feature to log my food and calorie intake.  The log takes into account any exercise for the day, a helpful motivator that helps keep it real for me.  I set a reasonable goal for weight loss and control of two pounds a week, which for a guy my age and height is 1500 calories per day.  If that sounds difficult, think again.  It’s not been difficult at all.  Since the app also has a food blog with tons of healthy recipes that are also good meals, it’s literally been a piece of cake (strawberry banana bread, actually).  Using the app has provided the discipline that my personality requires, so I have not missed a day of logging since I started nearly four weeks ago.  I can’t give a weight I am at right now because I don’t have a scale, but I know where I started.  I also know that there were clothes, especially jeans, that I couldn’t wear a month ago because they were uncomfortably tight.  Those jeans are now loose on me.

For an example of the report the diary generates, here is today’s count as of lunch.  Because of two hours of exercise this morning (that will change once I go back to work), I have some fudge (yes, real chocolaty fudge) in the calorie count today —

MyFitPal 122718

Optimism abounds for me right now, not always my state of mind this time of year when it comes to my body.  Instead of sinking into a winter pudginess, I am going the other direction.  Perhaps the old ladies at the pool this next summer will be impressed?

It doesn’t hurt that December started with snow, then turned mild.  Combined with extra days off, there has been ample opportunity to ride outside, something I have taken advantage of.  My mountain bike suffered a minor breakdown Monday, a broken rear derailleur, but thankfully I had an extra part and chain waiting — I am a little hard on that particular bike component and was ready for it.  I did use the breakage to scam a test ride on my buddy’s extra fat bike yesterday, a beast with 4.5″ tires.  Since I live alone, the Plus One factor does not affect me, so the call of new bike is very loud right now.

Here’s a picture taken last Sunday — because I know there are those who will be insisting I prove the above.  Yes, that’s my ‘lady friend’.  It’s obvious I have some ways to go, but my goal is a few months away.

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Preferred Freeze

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I never intended to end up with vacation days left this time of year, but it happened.  It just happened.  Last week, my boss and coworker both encouraged me to take the 3.5 days I had available.  So… I did.

The thing about riding dirt and sand in a mild weather December is timing.  Yes, nice comfortable temperatures during the day are wonderful, but a dirt trail turns to wet mush as the overnight freeze begins to thaw.  What does that mean to a mountain bike rider?

It means that to get a ride in, one must get out on the trail as early in the morning as possible, preferably as soon as the sun rises enough to cast light in the woods and while the top layer of dirt is still frozen.  It’s not as treacherous riding frozen dirt and sand as it sounds.  In many ways, it’s better than riding a dry trail in the summer.  Frozen dirt is usually tacky, with extra traction.  In January, riding can be more treacherous due to ice, but December riding can be fast.

IMG_20181217_102057360_HDRThe woods on a crisp winter morning are absolutely gorgeous.  I made it to the trailhead around 7:30 yesterday morning, the only other riders in the lot three guys who I could have sworn were ZZ Top.  No lie.  Two older guys with shaggy full beards and one totally normal looking guy.  They looked like serious riders, so instead of joining them I said my good mornings as I made a few adjustments to the rear shock on my bike, then rode in on my own.  A few minutes later, I crossed paths with all three guys while riding the most technical trail in the park.  While I could have kept up, it was obvious that it would have been a more intense ride than I wanted yesterday.  I just wanted to enjoy the quiet, occasionally push things a bit, get a few hours in on the bike.

I changed up my normal routine, warmed up on the trails at the front of the park.  Those trails are more challenging, a few of the trails new with challenging transitions, built on top of and in between tall berms.  They are a hoot.  There are a few drop offs that are just that — straight down and high.  I wanted to ride those before the sun started to thaw things out.

IMG_20181217_102108393_HDRThe back end of the park has a sandy section.  There is one spot that starts high in an open and sandy area, turns sharply to the left, then swoops back into the woods.  If the left turn is taken high, I can get some decent air and kick the rear wheel out before coming down and turning back into the woods.  Usually I get my wheels just enough off of the ground to make it a tiny bit of a rush.  This time, the frozen sand made it possible to take a lot of speed into the turn.  I flew, landed perfectly and caught air again over a root.  I whooped so loud I probably scared every wild animal away for miles.  I may never make that jump like that again, but for a few seconds I felt like a stud.

 

Health Insurance Roulette

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One of the more frustrating challenges in the past few years, especially since I changed employers March 2014, has been affordable health insurance.  When I was fired, I lost the BCBS family silver PPO that my employer subsidized.  It had been close to 25 years since I had to worry about health insurance for myself or for my family, the cost of my insurance and insurance for my family subsidized by my employer.  The pay I received from that job was bad to marginal but the health insurance benefit was above average and good, the $28 deduct from my weekly paycheck worth every penny.  Suddenly, I was faced with paying for COBRA insurance, then working through the then new federal Healthcare Marketplace.  I was offered a job two days after I was fired, but my new employer was small — a three person office with me being the only official full time domestic employee of a company based in eastern Europe.  There would be no company health insurance benefit, although the job offer included a monthly allowance for my family’s health insurance.  Even then, I would be required to pay roughly 75% of the insurance cost.

One note — I am very proud to be able to say that was only unemployed for two days.  The word of my demise spread quickly, as nasty stories have a tendency to do, and someone with my reputation and experience is rare in the industry I serve.  There was a lot of interest to hire me and the company who hired me was very happy to get someone with my experience.  Unfortunately, I needed a month to recover from the stress I had been through in the months/years leading up to the incident that led to my firing.  So much had been heaped on me for a long time, combined with financial and family/marital stress that added to the stress at work, that I had reached a breaking point.  While my employer had been extremely cruel to me, I hadn’t helped myself with my final reaction, which had been to tell my boss to fire truck off — he had been looking for a reason to fire me and was intentionally trying to push me over the edge.  After a long Wednesday that had been preceded by several long days and months of constant ruthless badgering by my boss, I handed the reason to him on a silver platter.  I can only say that I have had to learn some hard lessons about dealing with anger properly.  It’s not that I was an angry, raging lunatic, but I tried to avoid losing my temper so much that it wasn’t healthy in a lot of ways.  It hurt me physically and there were times where the frustration became too much for me to handle.  That time of my life taught me a lot of lessons, the stress actually pushing my body past its limits.  It was a good thing that I had good health insurance at the time!

For the record, no matter what my ex says, curse words are not a normal part of my daily vocabulary.  I know how many times she heard me curse in the 25 years we were married — so few that I can count the number of times on one hand.  Saying fire truck to my boss means that I was stressed out of my mind.  The day before the firing, the stress had been so bad that I had to go out to my car so that coworkers would not have to watch me lose it.  I sat in my car weeping uncontrollably for a good half hour.

I negotiated the dark waters of that first open enrollment fairly well, barely making the deadline for the 2014 open enrollment.  My son was diagnosed with borderline ADHD when he was 10 years old, prescribed the expensive medicines that go along with it.  I didn’t agree with the diagnosis then, don’t agree now, definitely question the necessity of the medications.  My boy has been exposed to an amphetamine that he will never be able to quit taking.  Those medications and the psychiatric care that goes with them make it a challenge to get affordable health insurance for him.  Most plans do not include those medications or psychiatric care.  If they do, they are very expensive.  That meant that the federal subsidy was necessary to keep the monthly insurance payment below $1000 per month.

The PPO for 2014 was discontinued at the end of 2014.  The plan that replaced it cost three times as much, making it impossible to afford even with the federal subsidy.  Through the Marketplace, I found another lower tier PPO that covered the medications required and was roughly the same cost.  It was supposed to also include the pediatrician and doctors we used.  The monthly federal subsidy was a little higher.  After signing up, we found out that our doctors had dropped out of the PPO’s network.  We were screwed for 2015.  So, when that PPO was also discontinued at the end of 2015 and replaced once again by a far more expensive PPO, I changed to an HMO for 2016 that was affordable.

2016 was the year the divorce started, although we didn’t separate until April 2017.  Late 2016, I took an advance from my retirement fund to pay off outstanding credit card debt (another stress for years, as well as a symptom of a terrible marriage).  When 2016 taxes were filed and my wife and I had separated, I received a letter from the IRS that advised that our 2016 income had exceeded the maximum combined income to receive the federal health insurance subsidy — which meant that I had less than two weeks to come up with the nearly $7000 to pay back the total 2016 insurance subsidy.  Since each of us had changed addresses, the letter got to me after the due date to pay the $7000, resulting in a hefty penalty for late payment.

This story is getting long.  Let’s just say that I was fortunate to have the money from my portion of the sale of our house.  Otherwise, it would have been much more difficult to deal with.  As it was, it depleted my savings to near nothing, making the first year of divorce a quite bit more uphill financially.  I am thankful that I planned my post divorce budget well, something I think my ex hates.  She suspects I have unlimited finances, I think, judging from the way she asks for money.  Truthfully, if I don’t stick to the budget I have set, I would be hurting.  God help me if there is an emergency (like my car is strongly hinting at now).

Things like unexpected changes to health insurance premiums can really mess with that budget.  This month, I start paying on the Parent Plus loan that I had to take out during my daughter’s junior and senior years of college.  I planned on that, but it means my budget is even more tight.  To avoid the excessive health insurance premiums and possible federal health insurance subsidy issue, this year I avoided the federal Marketplace altogether.  Instead of health insurance, I enrolled in a federally recognized health share for myself.  I found an inexpensive health insurance plan for my son — and found out that I either misunderstood what the salespeople told me or I was lied to.  His plan is a supplementary plan, not intended to be the health insurance plan.  It also doesn’t cover his prescriptions or psychiatric care, something I was careful about when shopping for his insurance, so I know I was lied to in that case.  His insurance is definitely not the plan I was told it would be.  It sounded too good to be true and it was too good to be true, as is usually the case.

So, my son needs to find insurance that meets his needs.  I have been asking him to come over to my place so we can look into a new plan for him, cancel the plan he has now.  I can’t cancel his insurance because legally I am not allowed.  I also want to see if he qualifies for a federal subsidy on his own, probably the way we can afford the insurance he needs.  I have to pay for his insurance, 100% of it, per the divorce agreement.

He is avoiding me.  Until yesterday, he ignored my phone calls and text messages.  He has done that for weeks.  I would have tried to get his mother involved, but wanted to give Nate a shot first, let him learn how to do it on his own.  I have communicated the reason why it needs to be done this way.  The open enrollment period ends this Saturday.  It has to be started a few days before or else there will be trouble.

They both answered me, partially, yesterday.  When I say partially, both said they received my messages.  So I encouraged her (and said it has to be done) to work with him to get enrollment started in the next two days.  I said I have to approve any plan enrollment before they enroll, as I have to get it approved for my employer to pay their portion.

Crickets.

The challenge isn’t just dealing with the health insurance itself.  This would be difficult if the divorce had never happened.  Dealing with it with all the angst of the divorce is making it a real challenge.  Trying to get both my son and my wife to work on getting the health insurance questions resolved requires patience… and prayer.

Cautiously Ecstatic

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two yellow plushtoy on brown bench

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am doing a happy dance right now, Snoopy style, without heels.  Those are next.  It’s a cautious happy dance, however, filled with the careful doubt that comes with hearing a rumor.

Hallelujah, praise Jehoshaphat!  If there were pews in my condo unit, I would be jumping them with concrete boots on, running up and down the aisles without a care in the world.

No, I am not pregnant, even with my winter gut in full rut.

No, Elizabeth Perkins did not accept one of my proposals, nor did she issue another restraining order.

No, every single possible song “performed”  and recorded by Cher or Bette Midler has not been permanently and irreparably destroyed.

Specialized has not issued me a free pass to any bike in their stable, with free upgrades for life.

I don’t buy lottery tickets.

So, you may ask, why am I so overjoyed?

The wicked witch may be leaving Oz.  I won’t have to throw a bucket of water on her or dodge flying monkeys.  My lady friend will not be required to march across my dining room floor in her high heeled ruby slippers.  Rumor is that my polish persimmon princess of a downstairs neighbor is going to list her condo unit for sale come this Spring.

How do I know this, you may ask?  You may ask.

My newest neighbor, Carol, moved in next door to me earlier this year.  Carol is a pleasant retired widow, one of those sunny characters who always greets me with a smile.  We became friends almost right after she moved in, when she rolled out of her garage on her bicycle in full cycling regalia.  I was out front loading my mountain bike on my car, so she came over to ask if I would loan her my bike tire pump.  In the evenings, we often exchange pleasantries across the balcony.

Carol is also a bit of a gossip.  That is coming in handy as I have found out.  You see, Carol is home during the day, as is Teresa the Terrible.  Recently, they met each other while Carol was walking her dog.  Teresa shared stories about the devil that lives above her.

Carol figured out who she was talking about.  🙂

Carol could not wait to tell me that she had met my best fan.  She laughed and said that if she didn’t already know me, she would have thought that Teresa really has a jerk for a neighbor.

This morning, as I took my trash out to the corner.

No, I don’t own a Trek any more.

I digress.  As I took my trash out to the corner, Carol emerged from her garage, smirk pasted on her face.  She informed me that she had news I might be just a little happy to hear.  TERESA TOLD HER SHE IS LISTING HER CONDO UNIT FOR SALE IN THE SPRING!

Anyone want to be my neighbor?

Crisco is not the Answer

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This time of year is always filled with transitions, changes required due to cold weather coming on and the snow/moisture that comes with it, as well as the decreased amount of daylight available.  As soon as I come home, I am greeted by the mass of Christmas decorations that adorn my condominium unit, a brightly lit and Cardinal infested tree in front of my living room windows reminding me that the season has begun.  When I wake in the morning, I am reminded quickly that my exercise and diet need to be adjusted to a disciplined routine, my waist straining to overtake my jeans as I pull them on.

Warning — Using Crisco to facilitate pulling on tight pants is not recommended.  People question the stains and lard can cause a painful rash.  Shoehorns are also not recommended as they can get stuck.. or lost depending on the extent of your “transition”.

Last night I visited a friend for a night of watching football, something that is becoming a bit of a weekly thing.  When I arrived, he was showing another friend the bicycle training set up in his kitchen.

Yes, we’re single men.  Single men are able to keep bicycles inside the house without fear of repercussion or bicycle destruction at the hands of a distressed female.

kickr_snap_ls.jpgJohn has a nice set up, his Cervelo connected to a Wahoo Kickr resistance trainer.  That trainer transmits via Bluetooth to a PC which has a Zwift subscription.  Zwift is a training app that controls the resistance as you “train” online with (or against) friends, a virtual group ride through various simulated terrain.  My friend’s eyes glistened as he described a recent training ride where he and another friend dropped the lead group, then carefully waited for the right moment to sprint to the finish line.  John raised an arm in triumph as he recalled edging his “training partner” at the line.

Let me pause as I wipe the drool off of my keyboard.  I WANT THAT TRAINING SET UP!  Can you say ho ho ho?

This time of year can be filled with dreams of training sugar plums.  Last Friday morning, my friend Mike gleefully showed me the app he uses for his diet and training.  Mike is a body builder, so he watches his calorie intake closely.  He has some cred, enough that I respect what he is telling me.  Mike uses an app called My Fitness Pal, something I think I am going to try to help me make it through the Winter transition.  The app is free, with a premium option, so it can’t hurt to try.  It features a dietary log with tons of restaurant food and recipes loaded in to aid in tracking calories.  Favorite recipes can be saved, a useful tool when setting up a menu and grocery list.

We shall see.  My best riding seasons have been preceded with a disciplined off season that includes some kind of electronic resistance training (usually Computrainer) and diet.

Happy Transition-mas!!!

 

A Touch of Sun on a Cloudy Day

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He called Wednesday before I could call him.  I kicked myself when I had seen his message earlier that afternoon, the chance to get off work early and ride some single track took precedence over anything else.  My intention had been to check in with him in the evening just to see if his plans for Thanksgiving had changed.  When I asked my son a week or two ago, he told me he had to work his job at the sporting goods store.  Of course, his phone call to me could have been an emergency or to get help from me, as it usually is.  Nate does not usually offer to spend time with family, although that has changed since the divorce, family something he seems to value a little more now that part of family is no more.  Prior to the divorce, he was indifferent to family time at holidays, as if he loathed every second, detached and somewhat hostile, a teenage attitude.  He seems to have grown up a bit in the last year, a necessity I suppose, enough that I have felt cautiously encouraged by what he has demonstrated to me in the past few months.

Parenting has always involved guesswork of sorts.  I have never been one to read books on parenting, although I did read James Dobson’s book well before I actually became a parent.  With me, effort far exceeds skill when it comes to being a father, my hope that the time invested in my children will be the value added.  Well aware of my own imperfections and quirks, I want to be the best father I am capable of being.  I have my own father as an example, himself flawed like anyone else, his heart and intentions so strong that even his faults are a valuable strength to me.  I am a version of my father.  I wish I had married a woman as fiercely supportive as my mother was to my father.  My own strengths as a father might be what my children see.  Divorce clouds their perception, I think.. on occasions I hope so.

Divorce also further clouds the confusion of parenting.  I am even more afraid of making a mistake now, the opportunities to make an impact rare.  My children are older, one away in another country, the other lives with his mother.  What exists with them is what came before, as well as their perception of what they know about me now.  That often is not positive, hurtful when I hear it from them.  Nate tends to spew accusations when he is angry, accusations that come from what his mother has said to him, pre and post divorce.  I need to be careful what I say, always have needed to be careful, especially with my son.  When he is angry or wants something, he attacks and will try to use everything he can to “win”.  Over the years, I learned to expect that from him, arguments that were next to impossible to escape when we lived in the same house, often fueled by a wife who encouraged him to keep coming at me.  It came to a point where divorce became the only conceivable option to escape that pain.  I hated the frustration, the struggle with the anger the situations brought on.

Divorce can be a selfish act.  It is a selfish act, but divorce can also be the only way to save self.  Believe me, I did and still do feel selfish at times, but I know that I need to be.  Finding the healthy line between self and selfishness is not so easy.

Early Wednesday evening, I called and left a message, then texted him to see what was up.  I was getting a little worried.  Nate wasn’t returning my calls.  I was concerned that he had an emergency.  He called back around 8:30 PM.. looking for a fight.  Why hadn’t I called to check on him?  He wanted to come to the Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s, the dinner I had invited him to.  He had to work at 5:30 on Thanksgiving day, so he couldn’t stay long, but he wanted to come.  I told him that would be great — but would he be OK with my lady friend being there?  There was a pause, then he told me he wouldn’t go, then hung up.

I expected that.  He called back, furious.  How could I expect him to be OK with me dating after only a year?  I understand a little.  I don’t expect him to like it.  Even though I have told him I am dating, I have not discussed that with him.  It’s tough and discussing the tough topics is where I am far from perfect.  I don’t know what is the best timing, if there is any, and I am afraid of saying the wrong thing.

I have several friends who have post divorce relationships destroyed by letting children dictate their relationship with their fiancé and second wife.  It’s tough.  One had the wedding called off because he said the wrong thing about his fiancé’s daughter, the other is facing divorce with his second wife for asking his wife to do something about the attitude her daughter was giving him.  Both women were offended, both ended the relationship.  Children don’t see your girlfriend or new wife as family.  They can see them as an intrusion.

My lady friend (thank you, downstairs neighbor, for giving me that term) has been a blessing to me.  After years of neglect, of no support, I have someone who understands the importance of supporting me.  I need to show her the same — and I did just that.

Nate called Thanksgiving morning with an ultimatum — tell my girlfriend that she had to stay home and he would go to Thanksgiving with me.  He was angry with me, said that it was too soon for me to be dating.  I wondered why he brought it up, since he knows I have a girlfriend.  I stayed calm with him because it’s all that works with him, even though he was cursing at me, accusing me of cheating on his mom, all the angst and pent up frustration coming out.  I know my son.  I know how he is going to act when he is angry.  All I can do is listen, not offer up too much as he will jump on everything.  Respect is not something he has been encouraged to have for me, nor has it been expected of him.  He would try to brow beat me, try to turn it into an argument.

I excused myself, told him that I had to take a shower and get ready.  He called back twice.  I finally told him that I was sorry, but he had a choice.  I was not doing something bad to him like he was accusing me of doing.  I was not going to leave my girlfriend at home.  I told him that I was sorry that it was difficult for him.  He was still angry, told me that there was no way he was going to eat Thanksgiving dinner with his mother, aunt, and 96 year old grandparents.  It was my fault that he would be spending Thanksgiving alone.  It was his choice, I told him.   It was, difficult as it was.

I felt bad, but the times of his mother taking his side and forcing me into agreeing are gone.  Neither of them has that power any more.  He called me selfish.  Maybe I am.  As I said, divorce is selfish.  The decision to divorce was tough for that reason, but it was also a time when I knew I needed to do it for myself.  During the course of one of his phone calls to me yesterday, my son asked me how I would have reacted if the shoe was on the other foot, if my father had done what I am doing.  I know the answer to that.  I didn’t answer my son, but I know the answer to his question.  I was not only taught to respect my father, I was expected to respect my father.. not because he had earned my respect (although he did, even in his imperfection.. which I am thankful for both).  My dad deserved my respect because he was my father.  If I were in the same situation as Nate, I would have gone out of respect for my father.  My son doesn’t understand that because he has never been expected or taught to respect me by his mother.  That was so hurtful, so painful during the course of our marriage.  While not perfect, I know I earned respect that was never given.

Despite that drama, it was a good day.  My lady friend looked out of this world good, let me know how much it meant for me to show her that my son was not going to control our relationship.  My father enjoyed the chance to meet her and talk to her.  We had to call them several times to come to dinner, something I was glad to see.  My ten year old niece greeted us at the front door, barely let me out of her sight, saved a chair for me next to her at the table, insisted I play games with her after dinner.  It was cute.  Dad proudly showed me his new truck.  Despite what had happened earlier, I had someone with me who showed me honor, made me feel good about myself.  Will my lady friend be the next chapter for me?  It’s way too early to tell, but she is helping me through this chapter of my life, helping me to feel whole again.  Did I make the right choice when I told my son that I was taking her with me for Thanksgiving no matter what he said?

I wish I knew.  I really do.  Maybe some day I will know.

Bad Afternoons and Shared Tears

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Dad sent my brothers and I an email last Friday afternoon, the subject line read Bad Afternoon.  Almost two months to the day after mom passed — the period of relief has begun to lessen, all the business and busy work that followed the memorial has been accomplished.  Their house is suddenly bigger and more quiet than he ever imagined it would be without her.  No matter how many people invite him to dinner or to join him for a show, it’s not enough to fill the space she occupied for 58 years.  Loneliness has set in, my father has realized what his wife and companion meant to him for so long.  With all that room in the house that they built together, there is now room for grief.  It’s time for that to happen.

Dad sold both of their vehicles a few weeks ago, a Toyota Tacoma truck and a Kia Sorento SUV, bought himself a Nissan Frontier truck with all the bells and whistles.. his “Cruck” as he calls it.  He is like a kid with that new vehicle, fretting over the little tweaks and details to make it right for him.  The guy shelled out $800 for new tires over the weekend, just to make the ride a bit more quiet.  Then he came home, realized he couldn’t tell mom about it, couldn’t beam and brag to her.  She was happy when he was happy.

Friday afternoon can be relaxed for me, the work week winding down.  So, after I read Dad’s email, I decided to give him a call.  My father was reaching out to his boys and I am glad he does.  There is a strong bond in my family, so evident during the past few months as our mother became more ill.  We know each other like family, share our good and bad, rejoice and fret together.  Not once ever has there been a case where there is jealousy or judgement, a testament to the cement that has brought us together — our parents.

Dad and I celebrated that together during that phone call, with joyful tears mixed with our grief.  I told Dad how grateful I am that I can look at him and my brothers, see what it has meant to each of us to have a mother who cared to teach her boys to be men.  It took me about five minutes to get that sentence out.  It felt good to say that while knowing what I said is completely true.  What we are seeing is complete support, transparency that you might not expect from four men, all possible because of the acceptance we experience through each other.  We had a mother who pulled no punches, encouraged us to talk, listened and acted when she needed to.  It shows.  She also pulled no punches when it came to her faith in God, expected the same from all of us (including Dad, who came to a saving faith through her), and as a result there are four men in this world whose faith is rock solid.

Dad and I can relate to each other right now, that common bond mentioned during that phone call.  We have both experienced and are experiencing the challenge of being alone.  I faced years where more and more I was alone, or felt that way, as my marriage began to disintegrate.  Reality that eventually I would be alone was something I feared, the eventuality and finality I avoided with dread.  Dad saw a while ago that mom’s health was failing, has always known that when that happened that she might give up.  I think he feared being without her in the same way I feared being alone.  The pain that led up to the reality is nothing compared to what the experience is like.  The day I moved out of my house and was alone was mixed with relief as well as incredible pain.  In the months that followed, I had to accept the pain as necessary to purging the poison that had built up.  Pain precedes healing.  That is my experience.

Dad is in the midst of the pain that heals.  He felt it coming, welcomed it in his own way, but I don’t think he was prepared for the intensity of the silence.  Comfort comes from friends, from memories, from the love of 58 years that will always be with him.

Steve, I guess I never fully realized what we had together.  Our relationship was never perfect, we fought at times, didn’t always see eye to eye, but she always supported me and showed me an intense loyalty.  I did not think about what a friend she was to me until she was gone.  We did everything together.  Your mom was always with me.  Now I know how important that was to me.  I am a blessed man.  God gave me the best woman for me.

I was a little astonished to hear that from him.  What he said about their relationship has always been obvious to me.  Yes, I remember the period when they fought intensely, how they came together and supported each other even during that period.  I can see how the way they quarreled strengthened their relationship instead of tearing it down.  Their love was clear to my brothers and I, had to be just as clear to each other.  My dad could make a family decision as could my mother without any question of doubt from either of them, probably because they made their decisions together.  When it came to discipline, rarely was it a singular act from my parents, never was discipline questioned by my mother or my father.  They were a team.

I told my dad something during that phone call that I have always wanted to tell him —

Dad, what you had with mom is what I wanted with my wife.  You both set the bar very high.  I wish I would have had what you had.  The expectations I had for my marriage came from watching two people love and support and need each other like my parents.  If we had come close, I would have been a very happy man.  I am jealous of how happy my mother made you.

Dad is becoming what mom was to my brothers and I.  Mom loved sending emails and texts.  While dad has always communicated with us, we are getting a barrage of messages from him every day.  I laugh.  I know my brothers are too.  It’s fun to see.

Like me, Dad is recovering with the help of friends, family, his church, as well as a healthy dose of God.  We are a lot alike, two gregarious extroverts who love talking to people.  I draw my energy from the people I know and meet, a personality trait I know I share with him.  My kids have said the same.  I like that.  I like that I am my father’s son.

 

The Ho Comes Early

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My ‘lady friend’ (term courtesy of my neighbor) is Clark Griswold’s twin sister, interior design version.  True story.  The pictures above were taken inside my condo unit last night.  The pictures don’t do the decorating justice — it’s beautiful and all done, for the most part, by my lovely and talented ‘lady friend’.  The joy on her face as she toiled and fretted over each detail was cute, something I laughed at as I told her so.  That she would enjoy the decorating was never a question in my mind.  Every weekend since September, she has had a little bag of goodies for me, Christmas decorations scoured carefully by her practiced eyes from the racks at local Goodwill stores.  It’s a talent, a gift, her ability to find a gift in the midst of the mess of stuff at that store truly amazing to me.  D has been dreaming of how those lovingly selected trinkets would fit together inside (and outside) of my condo unit for months.  When she suggested early last week that our dates this weekend would consist of dinner and decorating at my place, I had no choice but to say yes.

While I am not really ready for Christmas to start happening yet, watching her in her element was pure entertainment.  Ideas kept flooding over her as she worked, changes and tweaks implemented until the detail was just right to her.  D would stand back, palms extended outward with a pleased smile on her face, admiring her handiwork.  It was cute to watch.  Saturday night, we worked on the tree together after dinner (stuffed shells with salad, chocolate cake and Malbec for dessert).  I was merely a participant as my personal designer woman directed the festivity.

It’s a good thing that I rarely use that dining room table.  We will need to invite friends over for dinner, so the festive arrangements can be shared.  My kitchen table (not pictured) also is decorated, although I had to rein her in a little bit there — that table is my place to hang out, as well as the place where some of my cooking prep is done.  Pretty is not practical, for the most part.  Decorating also spilled out into the hallway outside my front door, where an old wooden rocking horse awaits with a red bow around its neck, as well as an old restored wood sled.  The sled was used by my brothers and I, lovingly restored by my dad.  Some time this week, a wreath will be added to the sled.  There also is a welcome sign hung on my front door, a snowman couple wishing everyone a joyful season.

Now I can sit back and enjoy my decorated condo… until we help D’s mom decorate next weekend!

(I should probably apologize for the title of today’s blog — I couldn’t resist and it has no bearing on my ‘lady friend’… unless you talk to my downstairs neighbor.  In case anyone is wondering, heels were carefully removed at my front door.)