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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Only 15 pages...

I know it's been a terribly long time since I've posted, and I feel it in my heart. It's the weight of a thousand heavy thoughts not allowed to drift out of my head, filtered by my unconscious and let go...or sometimes, fingered in my fully conscious mind over and over like a perfect stone. I have been so busy that I have neglected many things out of neccesity: my laundry, my house, my dogs, my biking, my sleep, and even deep thought.

The YSC Tour de Pink Duluth is one week away. At this time, seven days from now, the die will have been cast; it will be in motion, out of my control and I am looking forward to the feeling of being set free. In all, this has been a wonderful experience. I've learned a lot. I' ve managed a long term task. And best of all, I've met and become friends with a lot of really great, generous, inspiring people.

But some tasks have been harder. Like asking for money. Lord knows, I hate that. I am getting better, though. I'm even getting better at asking for help. That's a minor miracle.

I presented myself with a task that I was looking forward to and avoiding all at the same time. Our ride, or at least our After-Party, is in memory of a friend and former YSC Duluth member, Tricia Orlowski Schaefer. Tricia died 2 1/2 years ago after her cancer metastasized quite quickly. From the time of her initial diagnosis to the time of her death only 20 months had passed. I am still shaken by it. She was a remarkable person. Not in any way that would make her stand out in a crowd, yet she was magnetic. I think it was because of her complete honesty. She was always herself. Angry, sad, happy, or worried, she wore it all authentically. She didn't sit around and feel sorry for herself. Yet she didn't put up a front either. She was courageous in her honesty. She was beautiful, she had tons of friends, a wonderful husband, two little girls ages 2 and 4, and a family that adored her. The unfairness of her death at 34 so early in her girls life still upsets me. The pain and anger associated with it have not diminished with time.

So the task I gave myself was to create a display board about Tricia. I wanted it to tell her story. I also wanted it to show people why we were all riding, why I've worked so hard these months, along with many others to try to make whatever difference we can. I wanted to highlight her incredible family; her seven brothers and sisters who have all joined us in this effort, to highlight their bravery and grace and generosity. They are sharing Tricia with the world to make it a better place.

Part of the job started with me researching Tricia through her own words. I went and copied her journal posts from her Caring Bridge website. It is moving to read her words, especially noting how truly inspiring they were. Even though at the time of their writing they might have passed with little notice because they were so...Tricia. Her honesty was reflected in her wisdom and the way she dealt with her cancer. Reading those words again was incredibly inspiring.

But what struck me was how few there really were. Copied and pasted into a Word document they only amounted to fifteen pages of text. Fifteen pages covering the time when the fear of her cancer reoccurrence was put into words until her last entry. Fifteen pages to cover birthdays, family vacations, summertime and the state fair, Halloween, and Christmas. Fifteen pages of hope, denial, acceptance, sadness, regret, celebration, life, happiness, and even everyday simplicity. Only fifteen pages. They are precious. They are far too few.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Double is the theme for today

This is a first. I am updating both of my blogs together on the same day. For those of you who don't know, I keep this blog in the cycling months and I try to keep my other blog which can be found here all year long. On that blog I try to showcase my other pass time: art. Admittedly, my other blog has been left to grow web-based cobwebs (Ha Ha! True cob -webs!). I have been so busy with Tour de Pink and YSC that I have not had the time to create. The time will come when the cycling dies down, though, and I will feel the creative muse again. I know it as surely as I know the sun will rise. It has become a kind of season to my life. One season is biking, the other season is art. But they are both connected by another I love: writing.

I am not a good writer in any technical sense. But I do like to try to find the words to express what I see, feel or think. And I am always on the search for meaning in life. I try to stay tuned in to those moments, precious and few, like perfect beach shells, that I discover along my way.

Unfortunately my words often come out like buckshot, spraying at a target, creating collateral damage. But I always hope that at least one small pellet, a nugget of bright minded clarity will hit its mark. Often I fear my victims suffer from overkill. Please accept my apologies in advance and in perpetuity.

I said the theme of this post would be "double", and it is. We have started out with my double-posting (a remarkable feat if ever there was one!) but I will move on to more important and meaningful things.

My friend Julie called me late yesterday and invited me on a ride. Julie is still new to riding and new to her bike. I asked how far she wanted to go, and she shocked me by responding: 20 miles. As far as I knew she'd only ever gone 15 or 16. I took this as a milestone trip and enthusiastically jumped at the chance. It was after 6:30 when we met in the church parking lot and started riding. Right away she was complaining about the wind, and worried about possible storms. Like I said she is a new rider, and has not fallen in love with it yet the way I have; the kind of relationship where it calls to you and has a power over you, like a drug. I hopped on my bike and said, perfunctorily, "Let's go!" Admittedly, I pushed her for the first half of the ride. There were some hills to climb along the way, and she likes to go slow, taking her time. Of course there's nothing wrong with that, but in order to ride the Tour de Pink, you have to ride and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. I know how badly she wants to do this, but she needs to build her confidence.

So, I am sure I annoyed her with my incessant talking, reminders to shift gears, orders to keep pedaling, even downhill...but she was a trooper, and went faster than I believe she'd ever gone before. I showed her how I like to pedal as hard as possible downhill to help me on the uphills: how reaching 35 mph was no big deal. She let herself go to a degree, and got up to 27 mph. I was very proud of her! About 2/3 of the way to the turnaround point the sky started to look threatening. She started to talk about turning around early. The drill sergeant in me came out. I said "No. You are going to ride 20 miles today! I don't care if you have to ride in circles to get there!" How's that for a friend?

We reached the 10 mile turnaround and I gave her a little course on taking turns and NOT unclipping from the pedals when you do it! Then we headed back. By then it had started to rain a little, and in a short while the drops were larger and somewhat painful when they hit. Julie had slowed down; she was getting tired. But she was hanging in and wanted to make it home! I went a little easier on her, but kept encouraging her and chatting.

The low point came when some jerk came up behind us and laid on his horn because he didn't like that we were riding in the middle of the lane (to avoid the horrendous, life threatening potholes) and didn't want to have to go around us. It took a lot of restraint to merely throw my hands up and make a face at him that said "What the f***?" rather than flip him off. Jerks like that always have the potential to ruin a good ride.

We plugged along, feeling a little grumbly when it became clear that we were in for something special... The sunset was blazing through the storm clouds in multiple areas, turning the clouds a golden pink, and brightening the tops of chosen trees. The mixture of deep shadow and golden light was spectacular to see. There is nothing like being on the bike to make you feel truly alive and grounded with the world. Then we saw it: a rainbow stretching across the golden trees. It arced overhead and was lit up in contrast to the gray storm clouds behind. It absolutely took my breath away. But the full payoff came when a short distance down the road the rainbow had delivered a friend: a twin rainbow that glowed brightly above the valley. It was a spectacularly beautiful scene that is usually only represented in great art. But nothing compares to living it, feeling the spray on your skin, smelling the fresh leaves soaked in summer rain, and using your own eyes to soak it all in.

We finished the ride with smiles on our faces. Julie had completed an over 20 mile ride: a significant goal in her cycling experience. I was there to share it, and all the beauty we had seen. Thank heaven for last minute phone calls and for striking out as a team. You never know what rewards lie in store. Sometimes you get twice as much reward for half the effort!

Wow...I need to get my art back...

It is like entering a tomb. My craft room has not been unused for months. It is starting to get piles of purchases and papers, bags and just stuff piled high around the room. There are half finished projects and the detritus of our crop scattered around the room. It looks so sad, wondering if I'll ever come back. I admit I have been wondering the same thing.

My daughter has started to take it over as an exercise room: evidenced by the empty water bottles, fitness ball, and various hand weights scattered across the floor.

I have been working so hard running our Young Survival Coalition Affiliate and planning our fundraising bike ride, the Tour de Pink Duluth (happening in September), AND training and fundraising for the big Tour de Pink (in October from PA to NYC) that I have not done onet iota of crafting or art.

I have been starting to feel guilty even going into Archivers or looking at the scrap stuff in Target. I feel like a traitor! I was at CHA in July helping get donations for our Scrap for Survival (yes, we're planning one for this year!) and I could only allow myself momentary peeks at all the goodies...it was just too overwhelming and made me sad.

But the urge is really starting to build in me....I can feel it like a Tsunami. It's coming and heaven only knows what will happen when it does! Art is like water, my body craves it and can go only so long without it.

But I'm not giving up...and I'm not going to control it. Soon I will fill that thirst and I'm excited to see the results. Stay tuned!

For anyone wondering what I've been up to, or wanting to read my ramblings on my other blog, you can visit it here. It's full of a lot of biking and introspection, and I suppose it has served as a kind of creative outlet to tide me over. At least writing about my thoughts and the things I see provide me with a creative release :)

Stay tuned!

-Alane

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Full catastrophe living...

Those of you who are following me on facebook already know that I reached a new low this weekend. I crashed two times in two days on my bike. Needless to say, I'm feeling like a complete idiot. Not to mention that I'm sore, scraped up, bruised, etc., etc..... But it doesn't take much for me to realize that I need to quit whining.

All it takes for me is spending some time on facebook myself and reading about someone else's loss or trauma to put it all into perspective. A quick perusal of the newspaper's front page or just a phone call with a co-worker is really all it takes. I moderate the "Newbie" message board on the Young Survival Coalition website. That is the place where young women who are newly diagnosed, or waiting for their diagnosis go. They are scared, rocked to the core, and they are looking for a lifeline of hope, or a virtual shoulder to cry on, or just simple answers and advice. Some days it's pretty rough. I am always relieved if I or one of the other wonderful survivors who frequent the message boards are able to help with a supportive word, some helpful info, or just a listening ear.

So when I say I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be here, I really, REALLY mean it.
Crashing and shaving off a little skin is a joy if I choose to make it one. It means my heart is pumping, my body is working, I am alive.

More excitement and some might say treacherous adventure is going on at our house. My daughter is leaving for college in two weeks. I admit, I am dreading it. I am having an internal pity party. Of course all Moms love their kids and don't want them to leave. But I am keenly aware of how tight our bond is; how unique and special she is; how much I consider her in many ways my closest friend. I think this is because she is so like me. I have been struggling, trying to celebrate that I am alive to see this day come. I am astutely aware that when I was diagnosed I spent hours and days crying and praying that I would be here to watch my kids grow up. And here I am. This is something to celebrate! She is spreading her wings, and I know she will fly high! But the brain and the heart are not always in sync. In my mind I am celebrating and imagining all the adventures ahead. In my heart I am heavy and thinking of all the adventures past.

But it has occured to me just now...as suddenly as a light bulb being flicked on: all of this, the sadness, the self-pity, the excitement, the adoration, the breaking heart, and longing for more time....all of it is life. True life. I am comforted in the knowledge that I am living. Not surviving, not making it another day, not hanging on for dear life, but truly, deliciously, painfully, and without restraint living.

To me the hardest thing about living life to its full capacity is allowing your heart to break, allowing yourself to fail, experiencing sorrow and failure, and still being able to mend a broken heart and revel in the sunrise or the way the light filters through the trees, continuing to love again and to allow yourself to be loved. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD is a scientist, author and teacher who educates us on learning to live in the moment. He is the father of the science of mindfulness-based stress reduction. One of his books is titled "Full Catastrophe Living". Long ago, I fell in love with the title. It embraces the idea that a full life is one that is a catastrophe; a cacophony of joy, sadness, exultation, fear, hope, loss, and gain.

I am proud to say that my life is a catastrophe. No matter how many times I crash and end up bruised and battered, I will still ride. I will never choose the flat, even course. I will take the route with threatening hills that break into life affirming downhill sprints. I will keep going and I will allow myself to experience it all. Because I want to live.

Okay people...it doesn't get stranger than this. After I was done writing, I searched for Dr. Zinn just to make sure I spelled his name right. Please visit his website here and see what he has to say. I am especially fond of his closing quote: "Even in the midst of darkness, there is this other element: of beauty, of symmetry, of the natural world." I have chills.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's a sign

I've been wanting to post this for a while now, because it was one of those things that was just so darn cool. I hope you will join me in my appreciation of its awesomeness.

I've learned a lot from riding the bike: about myself, about life, about little things like how to change a tire, when certain wild flowers are at their peak, whose dogs are left to roam free, and the precise moments when I should sit back and enjoy the view. These may seem like small things, but they are lessons for life, really. And nothing compares with knowing that your body has the capacity to carry you a long distance, get you where you need to go and do it with nothing more than the use of a simple instrument built of rubber, fiberglass, and metal.

One of the things I had never known before (and it took my hubby to point it out) was that Harley riders have a sign or hand signal they give to each other when one pack of riders passes another. It doesn't shock me at all that Brad knows this. Not that he is or ever will be a motorcycle rider, but just because I have never met anyone other than him who has stored every piece of information they've ever been exposed to and actually uses it. Seriously, his mind is like a card catalog. You can find anything in there.

So Brad had pointed this out to me when we were on the road a few times. When one group of riders passes another, they give this low arm sweep gesture with there hand making what looks like the love gesture or, what we became familiar with in Hawaii, the "hang loose" sign. Of course I doubt they're telling each other to hang loose. They are much too cool for that. But it's interesting to watch. Their facial expression doesn't change, and it is done with an air of coolness that is impossible for me to recreate. If any Harley riders out there want to let me in on the secret code, I'd be glad to know it. Again, it's one of those little things, but a great deal of fun and a window into a part of life I otherwise would be going too fast to miss.

A couple of weeks ago we went on a 30 mile ride up around our cabin which is in Brimson, MN. It was a new route for us, so we weren't sure what to expect. Part of it had us riding on the shoulder of a road that was pretty hilly and busy with weekend travelers who were in somewhat of a hurry to get to their cabins, the lake, a campground, or wherever else they were planning on spending the day. It wasn't a dangerous route, it was just busy and we were feeling the heat and the hills. It was on one of these uphill climbs that we passed a pack of Harley riders who were zooming by in formation, enjoying the downhill. And then they did it...they gave us the sign. Not just one person, but a number of them. We were treated to something that will never happen again. For a few seconds,the two of us, middle aged dorks dressed in pink jerseys and spandex, were granted a small modicum of coolness. It was a fun gift to receive and one we wish we could have returned. But there was nothing cool we could do back (spitting was all that came to mind)...all we could do was nod and smile to their enigmatic faces. At first we thought they were teasing, but then we realized it was real. They were giving us props. It was awesome.

I have no idea what they saw in us that warranted the gesture. Maybe it was our determination, but instead I think they recognized kindred spirits who were just as appreciative of a great ride. Whoever they were, I'd love for them to know they are now part of my biking lexicon. One more memory that riding has brought me that I can tuck in amongst the others to build my own card catalog.

Here's to noticing the little things and giving props to anyone you see, however you might do it. Sometimes it leaves a major impression!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Celebrating the 4th

This comes a little late, but I have felt the need to share these thoughts for some time now. They are like pebbles in my shoe, constant thoughts that I know I need to share to feel somewhat unburdened. We have all been busy this summer, but especially on the 4th of July, celebrating Independence, the America we all adore, the men and women who have fought around the world for our freedoms and still are. It is a very special time in America. Summer! Often it is spent with family and friends, barbecuing, partying, and shooting off fireworks. It is truly a time for fun and celebration.
I am going on eleven years from my diagnosis. But the 4th of July, despite its fun and spectacle, feeling of homecoming and warmth will, unfortunately, always be tainted for me.
July 4th, 1999 I spent shrinking in fear on a hillside while I tried to pretend I was enjoying the fireworks. I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was awaiting my surgery which was scheduled for the following week. At that time, I knew I had an extremely large mass that had been growing unbounded in my breast for over a year, cancer in my lymph nodes, and I had seen the faces of dread on all the physicians who had examined me in the previous days; their barely composed anger at my delayed diagnosis, and their struggle to not squash what little hope of survival I had. I also had a wonderful husband, a seven year old daughter, and a six year old son. I shrank on that hillside knowing that I had an alien inside me. I felt like a ghost among the living. I don't remember seeing much of the fireworks through my tears. Thank heaven I was surrounded by my small family and our good friends who knew how hard it was for me to hold it together and had the grace to let me privately cry.
That year and a long time after were filled with moments of paralyzing fear, lost hope, and panic. Many holidays were ruined, many celebrations virtually unbearable. But the 4th of July continues to be an annual reminder of that time. Even though I am eleven years alive after a devastating diagnosis, I am brought back to that shrinking young mom, just as I'm sure so many veterans are cringing inside at remembered gunfire, explosives, and friends left on some battlefield. I left the carefree person I was then on the cancer battlefield eleven years ago. These days I spend grateful to be here, focusing on the joy of life. But some memories never fade. Some memories will linger with me forever.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

http://www.paolonutini.com/video.htm

http://www.paolonutini.com/video.htm

It's not all doom and gloom...

Well, I went for a great ride last night, despite a sore knee from mountain biking at our cabin this weekend. Riding 15 miles on a gravel road at a low speed did me in, but a 30-mile ride at over 16 mph didn't seem to phase me. Go figure. Still, I am off to see my sports medicine doc this afternoon to most likely get a shot of cortisone. I hate those, but it does work. They are more proof that I'm getting older. Don't get me wrong: I love the getting older part, but not the degenrative joint disease part. Chemotherapy, anti-cancer medication, and the early loss of my ovaries have really done a number on my skeleton. Of course it doesn't help that I have a genetic propensity for arthritis.

Wait a minute...I said no doom and gloom, so here goes:

I know I'm in for a good ride when I get into a rhythm or cadence. Sometimes it just happens naturally, sometimes I have a song stuck in my head and it's the perfect timing for the speed I want to go. At those times, I'm sure I look ridiculous. Not only am I riding like all get out, but I burst into song, too. And here's the truth...I really don't care how I look! I'm sure I have a big grin on my face and I may get more than a few strange looks from people (especially those on other bikes, walking their dogs, or pushing a stroller) but I'm usually gone before I see their full reaction. Who knows? Maybe a little bit of my good vibes are contagious and I just might turn someone else's day around.

The theme for last night's ride was particularly infectious. Not only do I love everything this guy does, but this song just happens to be my ring tone. (Yes, that's what you're hearing in the aisles of Target...it's Paolo!) Paolo Nutini. If you don't know him, you really should. If you think you know him because of his "New Shoes" song that gets played on the radio, you really need to listen to his other stuff. It's so much better than that. He sings with emotion, and writes a lot of upbeat songs that just make you smile and want to dance. As you will see when you visit his website, he's Scottish. Be sure and check out everything from "Candy", "Growing Up Beside You", and his newest live performances, the blues classic by Etta James "I'd Rather Go Blind", and the Louis Prima song, "Buona Sera". It's all awesome. If only he would come tour in the US. I would be one happy camper.

So here's the link to his video of "Pencil Full of Lead", my inspiration for yesterday's ride. Warning: this is absolutely infectious.

http://www.paolonutini.com/video,pencil-full-of-lead-wilton-hall-live-version_13.htm

Okay, I couldn't stand it...I added the video for "I'd rather be blind" below.

What can I say? This just makes me HAPPY :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Questions and concerns

I was going to title my last post "One at a time". To put it mildly, it was a bad day. And a tough week. One in which I have to think hard about what I'm doing here, now, today...what am I doing with my life?

I am living with cancer. I don't mean that I'm living with it in my body. As far as I know (as far as anyone who has ever had cancer can know) my body is free of cancer. But I live with it. In fact I've practically made it my best friend. I spend more time with it than I do anyone or anything I know.
I realize that sounds scary. Maybe even a little crazy.
The realization of it certainly has stopped me in my tracks.
But, it's true. Breast cancer and I are office mates. I think about it all day long, and often it comes home with me in small ways and in big ways. This week, though, it seemed to take over the world.

In the end, I decided not to call the previous post "One at a time" because I really did want it to be for and about Michelle.

But today is different. Today I am left with questions.

In addition to Michelle dying, another young woman named Lisa died. I did not know her well either, although I met her in person at a conference this year and knew her online through the YSC's message boards. Those message boards are on fire, friends! If you ever feel consumed with worry or concern over house payments, job losses, or anything, just take a moment and slip into those message boards for perspective. They are filled with the pulsing current of women newly diagnosed and frightened, women seeking answers, women looking to vent, or women in search of the friendship and support that they can't get elsewhere. I moderate one of the message boards, the "Newbie" board, so I am constantly reminded of what it is like to be newly diagnosed with breast cancer. On there you will find everything from the crazy to the profound. It is truly where the rubber of life hits the road of reality.

Lisa was a very prominent, wonderful presence on the message boards. She reached out, she gave of herself, she asked for friendship and got it, she was fully involved. Her death has left a hole in the lives of many women on those boards. The pages of tributes to her go on and on. And most of these people only knew her through her posts.

In contrast, I know another woman, an older lady. She was sweet, kind, shy, soft spoken and unassuming. She has been suffering with metastatic breast cancer and its treatments for some time now. The last few days she was failing rapidly, but still holding on. Yesterday she died. The visitors at her bedside were few. She had no partner, no husband, no children. I was distressed at the image of her last breath being taken alone. Happily, I believe she had company at the end.

I asked why there was no one with her. I asked if she had any friends. I was told, "No. She has co-workers."

I don't need to point out the utter disparity between these two situations.
I can't even say for certain that one is better than the other. The result is the same: someone unique, irreplaceable, and once alive is gone too soon, as a result of this terrible disease.
But I know which image I am more comfortable with. I know what makes me happy.

But as a friend said, it's really all about choices, isn't it?

So I'm mulling over mine. And I'm keeping a close, unwavering eye on my office mate.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For Michelle

I can't say I really knew her.
In fact to say I knew her at all would be an overstatement.
I met her. I had more than a few conversations with her. She was nice.

She didn't know me.
She may have heard about me from others, but I doubt it.
In the end she probably knew me better than I knew her.
But what she didn't know is what she gave me.

She gave me a bicycle.
Of course, she knew that part, and I was not the only one she gave one to.
But she never knew that along with that bicycle she gave me so much more.

She gave me my body back.
She gave me my own strength.
My ability to believe in and trust my body again;
To know that my body could be a thing of power, maybe even sometimes grace.

When you have cancer, it is hard to trust your body.
I felt that mine failed me twice.
I felt at times that my own body was trying to kill me.

But through my donated bike "Crash"
and training to ride in last year's Tour de Pink,
I found my body again: different, permanently changed, but in some ways better than ever.

She gave me a bike.
So simple.
Yet it is a gift for which I cannot find the words of thanks.
She gave me the ability to dream on two wheels.
She brought me hours of joy, intense happiness, introspection, and closeness to life.

I met her during the Tour de Pink and learned that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was terrible and painfully ironic since the company she worked for, Giant Bicycles, had been a sponsor of the Tour de Pink and donated bikes to all the survivors who rode. I am sure it was a strange position for her to be in. She was part of, but in many ways not one of the celebrated survivors in the crowd. Instead she was quietly on the sidelines, doing her job, and still getting used to her own diagnosis.

She died from metastatic cancer yesterday. She was young. I have no idea if she had a family, a partner, or kids. I know that she had a beautiful smile. I am sure that she will be greatly missed by a large group of people who knew her well and loved her. But I will never forget her.

In thanks, Michelle, I took "Crash" out for a 26 mile ride. We went fast, averaging about 16 miles per hour. It was a strenuous ride, a hard one, but I am so grateful that I could make it and think of you. In each labored breath I took I hope that somehow you heard me saying thank you.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

poetry

My mind wanders when I'm on the bike.
Sometimes it turns to poetry,
but...we'll see.
Mostly it takes in snapshots along the way,
roadside moments
that inhabit my thoughts
so I'll have small conversations with myself.

The lupines are fading too quickly.
They are going to seed.
Their colors once rich and thirst quenching are like paper.

My mind grabs colors along the way;
the pink of my shirt,
the yellow of the wildflowers in the ditch
the blue trailer and vibrant red of the farm tractor as I speed past it on the road.
Thrilling!

Thoughts sift in and out of me like wind.
The word courage comes to mind;
What does it really mean?
I think about people who die. They have courage too.
There are the other bikers who wave or nod as I see them.
I try to remember their names from the conversation we had weeks ago.
There is a sale going on at the dirty little grocery store.
Hamburger is $1.99 a pound.
And coke is 4 packs for $10.
Who waters the potted flowers
on a very ancient looking grave stone
in a Jewish-only cemetery
with its sign dated 1888?
I stop thinking when I have to focus on the hill;
You know the one: by the golf course.
The one I hate every time, that never gets easier.
My shoulders tense as I approach it and it's not long before my legs are burning from the pain of it.
My thoughts are back as quickly as my muscles loosen,
back to the birds in the tree
and the faded work glove lying alone in the center of the road,
the clink of glasses from a nearby house.

I've made my decision before I've even thought of it.
I am riding longer tonight.
I can tell by the speed I am going as I reach the intersection,
the one where I turn left toward home,
but instead I keep riding, straight ahead:
lost in thought and rhythm.

Monday, June 7, 2010

let me

let the tears come.
let them wash out of me like a cleansing rain.
let the choking, breath taking moments of feelings as strong as steel grip me.
let them rock me like a child.
let me dwell in past times, good and bad.
let me feel the presence of the unknown, and be glad.
let me swell my chest with pride.
let the pain and fear and anger sit alongside the joy and celebration.
let them grow together like two vines among stones.
let them blossom with thorns and fragrance.
let me celebrate life; complicated, frightening, raging, quiet, colorful life.
let me be taken to my knees with the sweet and bitter of it.
let me.

Friday, June 4, 2010

This has nothing to do with biking, but...

...you have to check this out. Courtney Bugler, Manager of the YSC Atlanta Affiliate was a guest blogger for Ladies' Home Journal. Read about her beef with Sex and the City 2.

Take a moment and add a comment. Let your voice be heard! I did!!!

You have to check this out...

...and let your voice be heard!!!

Courtney Bugler, Manager of the YSC Atlanta Affiliate guest blogged for Ladies' Home Journal about her beef with Sex and the City 2. Go Courtney!!!

Add your comments...I did!

Monday, May 31, 2010

What time on the bike can do...

Those of you who have followed my ramblings on this blog from last year and (admittedly sporadically) this year, you know that I tend to get philosophical in my posts. But I have found that, for me, this is the outcome of riding.

Normally I end up doing my riding solo. Brad and I are sometimes able to coordinate our schedules so we can ride together, but it's hard with work, the kids, and well, life. But this weekend has been different.

I have had the pleasure of riding the last two days with friends. First on Saturday, I took my friend Julie out for her first training ride for the Tour de Pink. Julie is a breast cancer survivor. She was six years out from her diagnosis and was supposed to ride in the Tour de Pink last year when she found out in early summer that she had a new breast cancer. She has spent all year since then having a bilateral mastectomy, taking a second trip on the joy ride that is chemotherapy, and generally kicking cancer's butt for good. But Julie had never had a chance to ride the donated bike that she received last year, at least not on the road anyway. (And let's face it, if you're not on the road, it doesn't really count.) A bike is like a horse...it wants to ride free!

So Julie and I rode up the shore of Lake Superior on Saturday. It was an absolutely gorgeous day despite the fact that the wind off the lake was pretty formidable and cold. Julie did great. We rode a little slower than I'm used too, but she learned how to use her toe clips like a pro, how to start and stop without falling, and generally got used to her bike on the road. The big payoff was feeling her excitement at finally getting to accomplish something she's been dreaming about for over a year. I got to celebrate vicariously what I can only imagine was a big step for her toward wellness, empowerment, and away from cancer. I also get to anticipate what is to come for her as she gets stronger, feels the joy of having an open road before you with nothing but your own steam and intent driving you forward. Here's to many great rides ahead, Julie!

Yesterday I was invited to ride with two of my favorite people, Lynn and Bill. Bill is a true phenomenon. He is in his fifties, but is seriously the most fit person I have ever known. He does it all with style and class: biking, running, swimming, whatever. I have lost count of how many Ironman events he has done. He is literally a walking reminder (or guilt inducer) to get out an DO something!!! But he is also incredibly generous, thoughtful, and patient. He will ride with lesser beings such as myself and chat along the way.

Lynn is like pure sunshine. She lights up everyone and everything with her presence. Just seeing her or hearing her voice instantly makes you happy. She giggles, and I love that. She knows how to have fun, seems to never stress, and always has the right mindset: to enjoy yourself no matter what. She has great priorities which I would say include: fun, family, friends, and fun.

We went on one of my favorite routes, a 30 mile ride. Normally when I'm riding I don't stop. Not even to drink. I usually just keep powering forward. But this time, we stopped halfway at one of my favorite vistas: a beautiful lake that I always enjoy from the seat of my bike. But we stopped! And then we did something truly unexpected: we had a beer!!!! We sat on the little deck of a bar, sipping a cold beer, and enjoying one of my favorite spots that I had never taken the time to slow down and really see. It was heaven. The whole ride was great, but I definitely learned a lesson about stopping once and a while. I need to remember to slow down, soak it in, and enjoy the roadside as much as the road. Thanks, guys, for another great ride. There is talk of making this a regular summertime treat, and I will be the first one geared up and ready to roll!

So today I am planning a longer ride. I don't have any plans to be riding with anyone else as Brad won't be able to fit it in his schedule. It's Memorial Day and we have no picnic to go to, no celebrations. Cory is marching in a parade this morning, but that is the only planned event we have for the holiday. And it's really fine with me. I find that these holidays are best spent reflecting, and you guessed it: I'm sure I'll be doing that on my bike. I will be thinking about Ron, my brother-in-law, who is in Afghanistan, and Maureen (my sister) who is trying to survive without him in Pennsylvania. I will be thinking of friends, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers who are doing our nation's work. I will honor them in my full appreciation of the day, one in which I am free. Free to ride, to laugh, to love, to have a beer, to watch a parade. Free.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Time to move

Spring has been sensitive as to whether it is really making a comeback here. It had warmed up to incredible weather in April and then we got hit with cold and rain again. Heck, a week ago on May 7th it decided to actually snow! Yes, you read that correctly. Snow in May. Three inches. Of course it melted the next day, but with the leaves on the trees just starting to open, flowers budsg on crabapple and cherry trees, it made my heart sink. I pictured a spring and summer with no flowers, no leaves...it was disheartening. Thankfully, everything seems to have made it without too much damage. The azalea decided to bloom anyway, so that's a good sign!

We have had a lot of rain this week and chilly weather (in the mid 40s) but it seems to have turned around. Yesterday it hit 60 degrees and Brad and I got to go on a great ride. It's been tough finding the time, I admit. My work has become more consuming and I have just been wiped out. But it's gorgeous today, Brad is off fulfilling his long awaited desire of a day spent fishing for the fishing opener, and I am planning a ride. I don't want to get too ambitious and overdo it, but I am shooting for 30-35 miles.

These days I am riding my new bike. Yesterday was only the second time I had her out. I realize I have not officially introduced her. Brad gave her to me as a Christmas present and I have been waiting until now to take her for a spin. He set the ordering process in motion right after the Tour de Pink last year, and my main man, the uber-awesome bike dude Corey at Ski Hut, won't quit telling me what a feat it was for him to find her for me. He knew just what would be the perfect bike for me, and I have to say "amen, brother"!!!

Her name is Ruby. I am pronouncing it more like "Ru...Bee!!!" She seems to like it :) Let me tell you, no disrespect to Crash, who is an awesome bike and will still see plenty of ride time, RuBee is ffffffffaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssssttt!!! Seriously, the first time I had her out was on a ride with Brad and I actually had to keep stopping and turning around to go back for him! I wasn't even trying to go that fast, it just happened! She's all carbon, so she's a lot lighter. I wasn't used to it, though. It was a very windy day and I was blown around quite a bit. At times I felt like I was teetering on top of an egg beater!!!! But we'll get to know each other better over the coming months, and things will be great. I will post some pictures of her. I need to take some before I damage her. I feel so bad, she's very pretty, and I am such a klutz!!! So, I'll try to get a photo before she is "Alane-ified"!

Like I said my biggest challenge is finding the time to ride on a regular schedule again. It will be easier once the kids are out of school, I think, but I really need to get a handle on my work situation. I'm not good at leaving things unfinished. Now I have to so I can get out and ride! It is so good for me mentally, I am really looking forward to it!

Of course it doesn't help that I've taken on the challenge of putting on our own one day Tour de Pink here in Duluth in September. So if you're out there reading this, visit www.ysctourdepink.org, click on the Duluth ride and sign up! It's going to be a blast!!!! If you're not a rider, believe me, we need volunteers too!

That's it for now... I'm going to go do some laundry, and get ready for a sweet ride!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Here we go again!

It's hard to believe but the year has flown by fast. We have been blessed by an early spring (keeping fingers crossed behind my back) and unseasonably warm temperatures. Winter cleared itself up earlier than usual. The snow melted leaving pot holes in its wake and mounds of grit that the street sweepers have already begun removing. Happy, happy sunshine! Of course I've celebrated by getting back on my bike a few times. 20 to 25 miles has not been that hard. I haven't been able to be consistent since I've been very busy, but pretty soon there will be no excuse. Busy or not, the training has got to begin!!!! Why, you ask?

That's right! Brad and I have signed up to do the Tour de Pink again this year! I have to be more specific since there are more Tour de Pinks now: on the West Coast, in Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis and (what's this?) in a little place called Duluth, MN! You heard me. We aren't just in training and raising money for our ride in the East Coast Tour de Pink from Hershey, PA to New York City, we are also hosting our very own one day Tour de Pink ride to benefit our Young Survival Coalition Affiliate on September 11th! It's going to be busy, but it's also going to be a lot of FUN!

As for the big Tour, we have yet to set up our fundraising pages, send out letters, or do any of that official Tour stuff. But we have managed to ride a little. Surprisingly in many ways it feels like we never stopped. Granted, I rode a little on the bike trainer this winter, but nothing compares to saddling up and taking her out on the road. What's really exciting is Brad and I won't be alone this year. There's a whole team of YSC Duluth riders coming with us. It's going to be a blast! Stick around as the craziness ensues! (Or better yet, why don't you join us? Just visit www.ysctourdepink.org )

But for now, enjoy the birth of Spring!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sneak Peak #2!

In my last post I mentioned that for the Scrap for Survival coming up on Saturday, March 20th, I was teaching two classes. I shared the first class project with you, the accordion file folder album. Now I want to show you what I have planned using that awesome "Golden Rule" vintage photo from my friend Julie. I am totally in love with that picture and have been wanting to do something with it for a long time. I enjoy making little art canvases and I absolutely love to go garage sale-ing and antique hunting for vintage treasures to add to my projects. So, for this class I thought it would be fun to incorporate some vintage finds along with some great new products to create an adorable piece to hang in your house or studio space. Without further ado, here it is:



I wanted to make sure and cover some techniques that many people don't often use. I love to get messy, so of course we had to paint and use paper mod podge! And crackle medium is one of my all time favorite supplies for getting the vintage look.

I lucked out at an estate sale when I scored a whole tube full of these milk caps. It is a lot of fun to make the accordion flower to highlight their great colors and graphic!



Hopefully this will be a big hit with the participants! It was a lot of fun for me! Well, I'm off to go prep about 40 canvases for this project...wish me luck!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's been a long time coming...

I know it's been a long time since I last posted, but things have been getting pretty busy around here! We are gearing up for our Scrap for Survival to benefit the Duluth Affiliate of the Young Survival Coalition. It is an awesome 15 hour crop full of prizes, page challenges, classes, free meals, beautiful scrapping space, scrapbook valet service, a silent auction overflowing with fabulous donations, and more. Each participant receives all of this plus an awesome goody bag stuffed with great scrapping supplies. Seats are still open, and we would LOVE to have you! It is all for a fabulous cause: the only non-profit organization that focuses on the unique issues facing young women with breast cancer. If you're interested in learning more, stop by our Crop blog and check it out!

I am sharing a sneak peak of one of the classes I will be teaching at the event. It is a file folder album and uses some of my absolutely favorite things: Cosmo Cricket paper, office supplies :), Unity rubber stamps, and punches. It's easy, fun, and I think would make a great gift that you could whip up very quickly! Participants are going to get a choice of using one of two paper lines for their projects. Here's a peak at both:



Here's a little peak at the inside to see what's in store! I LOVE tags, the bigger the better. They are great for so many things. My friends laughed at me when I ordered a box of 1000 of these huge tags and now they can't keep their hands off them :)



Check back and see what I have planned for class #2 that I am teaching. (It's "da bomb" if I do say so myself!) I am going vintage-y and re-purposed with this one. Just try to guess what I am planning to do with this photo:



This pic is a huge favorite of mine; It's my friend Julie's Great Grandpa. Isn't it just awesome? Stay tuned for what I have in store! I also want to mention that Class #3 is being taught by the incredibly talented designer, Heather Nichols, from Papertrey Ink. Heather taught at our crop last year and the class was fabulous. I have to work hard to look good next to her! Check out her amazing talent on her blog here!

To make up for my absence from posting, I am fulfilling a request: I am sharing my chocolate cake recipe that I mentioned in an earlier post. Seriously, it's delish-eee-oooh-soh! I am personally feeling like I need a dose of chocolate heaven right now!

Guard this with your lives! Here it is:

Mom's Chocolate Cake (yes, that's what it's called!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together in a large bowl:
2 Cups flour
2 Cups sugar
3/4 Cup cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

In a separate bowl, beat:
1/2 Cup softened butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Cup brewed coffee
1 Cup milk

Incrementally add dry ingredients to wet, mixing well. When batter is mixed, add in as many chocolate chips as you feel is socially acceptable ;)

Spray 2 round cake pans with Pam baking spray or coat with shortening and flour.
Evenly distribute batter into pans.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Cool pans on wire racks for ten minutes. Invert pans and release cake layers onto wire racks to cool.

I usually frost my cake with Chocolate Butter frosting. (Yes, use butter, and make extra! Yum!)

Enjoy!!! Let me know what you think!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!!! Make one today!



Hi there! I just thought I'd show you the quick project I put together for my family for Valentine's Day. This is so quick and easy, you could literally make one today, right now!!! I know because I made the one for my hubby in less than two hours yesterday. My daughter walked in and saw it and said "Sure...you have time to make one for Dad...". I gave into the guilt (besides, it was fun! And made one for her and her brother as well.)

I have to give credit to my friend Julie who found a "52 things I love about you" deck on the website www.cutoutandkeep.net . Because it's what I do, I made mine a little more involved and "vintage-y". Still, It was so easy, I used mostly stuff I had on hand including the decks of cards, paint, paper, and ribbon. I made a quick run to purchase the binder rings (the 7 Gypsies ones are so much better than any other binder ring I've used, plus they're red...how cool is that?) While I was at the store, I bought the clear embellishments, but I wasn't even convinced these needed them. Once I got an assembly line going, these came together really fast.

This was such a fun, easy project, I even had time to photograph the process just in case you want to make one (or two!)

Step 1: find a deck of cards. Easy! If you're making this for Valentine's Day, the red ones look great. I had an old set of purple ones I found laying around and a deck of pink ones (they were breast cancer cards so of course I had to buy them.) But this would be cool with an old vintage set of cards, or even a mixture of different cards.

Step 2: Make your list of "52 things I love about you". This was super easy. I made a table in Microsoft Word (or Pages if you have a Mac). The table was four columns with four rows. Each cell measured 2.25" tall and 1.75" across. This was the perfect size to fit into the center of each card without covering up the numbers. I made the lines on the table dotted so I could use them as a cutting guide later. Then, I chose my font and started typing. Once I made the table for one person's deck, I just used the same table for the others, but changed the "I love you because..." sentiments. Here's a pic of the table printed onto computer paper. Once I checked for spelling mistakes, etc. I printed it onto cream colored cardstock.



I will point out that between printing the paper copy and printing onto cardstock, I changed my font. I liked the cursive with the typewriter font much better. After I printed the table on cardstock, I cut them apart. I chose to paint the edges. I just used regular acrylic paint in a variety of shades of pink and a foam brush. Here's a pic of that:





While I was painting the edges of the sentiments and letting them dry, I was also preparing the card bases. I decided to spray them with glimmer mist. I used the color sweet pea. Here's an example of that:



It doesn't really take long for the glimmer mist to dry, but you can speed up the process by using your heat gun. Just be careful and don't get too close to the cards or the heat will cause the coating on the cards to bubble. Once I had misted one side, I turned the cards over and did the other side until I had a deck that looked like this:



After the misting was done, I painted the edges of each card as well, usually with a different shade of pink to add interest. I felt like that really made each card look more like a finished page and added some "pop" to the colors.




I decided to matt each of my sentiments on some valentine papers just to add a little more color. So, I cut 12 x 12" paper strips that were 2.5" wide. Then I cut each of the strips into 2" pieces, getting 6 rectangles out of each strip. I used double sided paper so I cut another strip into 6 more pieces so I could have the other pattern as well. I found that nine strips of patterned paper made the exact number of rectangles since I included a dedication on the inside of the cover and an extra card that had a "52+" sentiment on it. If you want to make more than one deck at a time, just double or triple the number of strips as needed. Once I had all my rectangles cut, I adhered all of the sentiments onto the rectangles. (Things really start moving quickly at this point!)

I was a little anal and tried to keep my papers in some sort of sequence. Yes, even though I love to get messy, out of chaos comes order!



The obvious next step: adhere your sentiments onto the cards. Again, my anal side broke in and I tried to shuffle up the cards so the black faces were mixed in with the red ones, the numbers were random, and the last card was the King of Hearts. Forgive me!



After that was done, I used my Cropodile Big Bite to punch the holes. I like the Big Bite for this because it has a guide you can set so you punch the hole in the same place every time. And you can punch a bunch of pages at once. The Cropodile has this, too, but I find it easier to punch through a whole bunch of layers without having them slip around on the Big Bite since it's flat on the table. If you're wondering, I found it best to punch the holes after I'd done my layering so the sentiments could be smack in the middle of the cards. Alternatively, you could punch the holes in one card, line up a stack of other cards, trace the holes and punch them.



Next came the fun part! I made sure the pages were in order and put them on the rings. The reason I like the 7 Gypsies rings so much is that they lock tightly and don't let the pages get caught when turning them like other binder rings do. After I put them on the rings, I went back and sprinkled a few adhesive embellishments on various pages, and tied lengths of ribbon, yarn, fibers, etc. in colors that matched onto the top ring.

Here's just a few more photos of the finished products:



I really like the way each one turned out a little differently even though I used the same basic supplies for all of them.



It was a lot of fun to give them to everyone this morning and watch them read each card, as well as everybody else's. I am staggered that even my husband wondered aloud, "Hmmm...where am I going to keep this?" I almost fell over. He actually wants to display it somewhere!


Now that I've finished these, I have even more ideas. I think it would be great to use a bunch of vintage cards (which I have been collecting) and do a "52 things I always want to remember about..." or "52 things I learned" or "52 things I wish I wrote". The possibilities are really neverending. There are definitely more of these in my future. I can feel it!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Letters, memories, and the power of both for Valentine's Day

I am not even sure where this post will lead, but I felt absolutely compelled to write something right now. As a cancer survivor and as someone who works with and meets a lot of other cancer survivors, I have become very involved in other people's stories. Many of the people I meet I know extremely well, and feel lucky enough to call them friends. Some of them I have never met, yet I still feel like I know them well and hold them in a special place in my heart. We meet through phone calls, emails, message board postings, and on a place called Caring Bridge. For those of you who aren't familiar, Caring Bridge is a free website for people to set up their own webpage when they are facing some sort of illness. It is a wonderful way to keep family, friends and others informed about your welfare, updated on your health care plan, and to keep in touch without having to make a million phone calls. For people who decry the death of the written word because of technology, I am telling you it lives on Caring Bridge. (And on blogs too, for that matter.) I treasure the Caring Bridge postings of a friend who is no longer alive. They were intimate letters that allowed us into her heart, mind and soul. Her posts were sad, frightened, uplifting, funny, hopeful, and more. They were a gift to everyone who read them, and there was more to learn from them besides the details of her day to day life.

I guess I survive on the belief that life really is all about stories and what we learn from them. Maybe that makes me a true romantic. But I believe I've seen enough to know it's true. We all live similar lives, many of the things we do are mundane, but if we look deeper, there is magic there. And moments of insight that need to be examined reverently to make sure we are truly living. Perhaps this comes easier to people who face something life-threatening. There's nothing like cancer when it comes to receiving a giant wake-up call. Everyone's heard people say things like, "it makes me treasure every moment I'm alive." But is that really possible? Sometimes life needs to stew a bit for the truth, the meaning, the message to bubble to the surface.

My point of writing was really to share the following Caring Bridge journal update I read today. This is from someone I have never met. But I am touched so deeply by it. I hope that you will be touched in some way too. This is my Valentine's gift to all of you. FYI: I am changing the names in this post to protect this person's privacy. But the moment, the learning, the life lesson included is just too valuable not to share. Here it is:

A few years back my sister had a convertible. Elizabeth, Mary and I had lunch at Pizza Luce in Duluth on some sunny spring day while Joe stayed at my parents house. After a pizza, salad and a few bloody marys Elizabeth and Mary went to some boutique store to look at scarfs and I wandered across the street to The Electric Fetus to look for a disc. A few minutes into the store after thumbing through a few stacks of CD's, I found it, Duluth Does Dylan Revisited. I needed this CD. I bought the CD. Also a dress for Elizabeth. Slightly buzzed from the vodka, eyes squinting from the sun, and elated about my find, I met up with Elizabeth and Mary at the car. Now lets remember this is Duluth in the spring so it is not all that warm but we put the top down on Mary's car and with Mary driving we took off. Elizabeth put in the disc and I told her put on song two. Soon a hauntingly beautiful sound rose from the speakers. It was Cloud Cult singing Mr. Tambourine Man. The song was so perfect for that day. Driving the long way back to my parents house, up the steep hills, down the winding roads through the trees past a place that made Elizabeth and I laugh (only we know why), and eventually after about 6 times of listening to the song, back to my parents house. We all were smiling. Elizabeth looked beautiful in the front seat with her sunglasses on, goosebumps on her arms and cheeks red form the wind. She looked at me so many times on that ride with such passion in her eyes. After the first time we listened the song she turned around, gave me a kiss and said I love you. It was a great Sunday afternoon.

Two days ago while driving Katie home from school, I put in a unmarked cd and a few songs into it, the song came on. Just me and Katie in the car listening to this song. We as a family have listened to it a hundred times together dancing in our dinning room. But this time, like the first time was different. Katie stopped talking and listened to the song. It ended and she said "Daddy? Isn't that a pretty song? I love you." It was a great Wednesday evening ride home.

I love both of you too!


I became acquainted with this family who lives in the Twin Cities a few years ago. Obviously they have ties to Duluth. But the wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with a particularly nasty kind of breast cancer. Since then, she has had to go through far more than one person should. Her cancer is Stage IV which means it has spread, and she fights now to stay alive as long as possible.

I thought this letter was one of the most beautiful love letters I've ever read. I posted a message to the author letting him know how deeply touched I am by the story. I also wanted to let him know about the following: coincidentally, the Young Survival Coalition Duluth office is now located above the Electric Fetus in downtown Duluth. When I sit at my desk, I look at Pizza Luce across the street. Cory absolutely loves to come to the office with me since it means he can lose himself in the CD stacks of the Electric Fetus. I will never be able to look at that building again without thinking of them. And a gift I am giving myself for Valentine's Day is to go in and purchse that CD, put on that song, and dance with my family.

Have a wonderful day. Tell your family you love them. And stop every now and then and pay attention to life. Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm late, late, late!!!!

I'd like to say it's for a very important date, but , no...I'm just plain old late!

First of all, it was my son's 17th birthday on Friday and we had his big party this weekend. I didn't have much time for creating (although I had hopes) but with a slew of very large, hungry boys in the house, what can you do? But I have to show you this...the ULTIMATE CHOCOLATE CAKE!!!!!







I am not exaggerating. This cake has been the cake eaten at every birthday in my family for years. It is my Mother's recipe (I am not sure where she got it) and literally I have eaten it just about every birthday of my life. It is always the requested cake by my kids and my husband every year. It is the richest, moistest, most delicious chocolate cake you can imagine. BUT I have had a serious problem with it for years. The recipe is a jumble of ingredients and no directions. Over the years I have devised my own system and it comes out great, except for the part where it comes out of the pan. No matter what I do, it breaks. It sticks to the pan. I pray over it every time like someone at a funeral, wishing their loved one back to life. Seriously. And every year it breaks. So does my heart. I usually make triple the amount of chocolate butter frosting, piece the "road disaster cake bits" back together, and put forth a cake shaped object. Delicious, yes. Attractive, no. Nobody but me has ever cared.

But this is the absolute first time I have gotten the cake to pop right out of the pans!!!! See how it glistens! Nary a crumb was left in the pan!!! It was a birthday miracle!!!! "Behold, I give you...chocolate cake perfection!!!" I was just so happy to finally have created the perfect, stress free, delicious cake, nothing could have made me happier. Except of course wowing a group of boys out of their usual teenage stupor with the comment (in appropriately reverent, hushed tones): "is that your homemade chocolate cake?" Infamy!!!!!!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Serendipity and Celebrating the Return of Dreams

serendipity:(noun) the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.

I have had so many exciting, wonderful thoughts swirling through my mind today. Knowing that I wanted to write about them, I had thought that by now, after putting the day's work to rest, after making my family's dinner, after taking multiple deep breaths, I would have coalesced that cloud into a clear understandable expression of thought.

This has always been my downfall. Anyone who is fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to try to carry on a conversation with me realizes that my mind takes more side trips than a bus tour to Disneyworld. I am constantly so distracted by newer, better thoughts, memories, and anecdotes that I'm like a crazy chef with an armload of spices thrashing over a vat of soup.

Anyway, I'll do my best!

Yesterday I spent a wonderful day doing some creative self-exploration. We spent a good deal of the time talking about how you make things manifest in your life; what is in your control, what is out of your control, and more. It was a day full of great conversation and it has brought me some wonderful unexpected blessings.

At the end of yesterday's post, I wrote about Paula Cheney, creative force and inspiring human. I wrote about her generosity and kindness. I wrote about how touching her support of the YSC's Scrap for Survival over the last two years has been. I shared a few photos of Paula's beautiful creation that she donated to our event this year. As I often do, I made my way over to her blog to see what she had been up to. As usual, I was blown away. I commented on Paula's newest creation and mentioned that I had blogged about her wonderful album.

This morning I woke up to an email from Paula thanking me for the comments and asking permission to feature my "Dreams" mini book on her blog!!! I was so excited I was jumping up and down all over the house! My husband and son smiled and said something like, "that's nice" (even though they didn't really get it.) But my daughter understood how excited I was to have someone I admire appreciate something I had made.

Of course I fired off an email to Paula saying, in effect, who in their right mind would say "no" to such a request? I also included a story about my "Dreams" album that I hadn't shared with anyone until then. Paula insisted that I had to share it here.

So here it is:

I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed when I was 31 years old, after being told for a year that I was "too young for breast cancer". It was a horrible, frightening, sad, lonely, terrifying experience that changed my life forever. My breast cancer experience has truly made me a different person. For one, I started (along with two friends) the Duluth Affiliate of the Young Survival Coalition, which is a non-profit community made up of young survivors and supporters of breast cancer. I now work as the Program Manager of our Affiliate and am very proud to provide a network of support, education, and comfort to other young women diagnosed with breast cancer.

One of the hardest things about being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age is that it comes at a time when your life is just starting: careers, marriage, children, just plain learning who you are, etc. It's awfully hard to be facing a possible death sentence and swaddle a baby, send your firstborn to Kindergarten, go on a date, finish a college degree, and the list goes on. When I was diagnosed, my kids were six and seven years old. My cancer was quite advanced and it had spread to my lymph nodes. Things did not look good. I constantly ached to have my carefree life back, to be able to make plans for the future, to imagine a future for my children with me in it, to enjoy a present with my kids where I wasn't the scary Mommy, the Mommy who was always crying. I was never fully able to process these thoughts. The fear and the anguish were literally so bad that I felt if I faced them my heart would stop beating just from the pain. So for years I didn't face them. It was years before I admitted my anxiety and recognized my inability to move to a better place in my life. I was seeing a therapist who, after talking to me for a short while, pulled a book off her shelf that was titled "Grieving the Loss of Dreams". I still feel tears in the back of my throat when I think about that moment. It was the first time another human had been able to understand what I was feeling. it was also the first time I had been able to put words to the pain.

This year I reached the ten year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. To celebrate, my husband and I rode in the Young Survival Coalition's signature fundraiser, the Tour de Pink. It is a 230+ mile bike ride over four days that goes from Hershey, PA to Times Square in New York City. I was excited to be chosen as one of five survivors to be used in the Hershey's ad campaign. (The Hershey Co. is a big sponsor of YSC.) Part of my "special" survivor duties was to write a blog about my story and to document my training. I did and if you're interested, you can read it here. We also had to raise money to participate in the ride. I named my effort, the ride, and the journey "Celebrating the Return of Dreams". That theme was in the forefront of my mind for months as we got ready for the ride. In the end, the ride was fantastic. We rode every mile and enjoyed every minute of it. We loved the people we met and even before we were finished we had decided to sign up to ride again in 2010. I had no idea what was waiting for me at the end of the ride. The ride organizers, my husband, and the TV show Fox & Friends had arranged a surprise. They surprised me by bringing my kids out to help celebrate our finish of a long, hard journey. It was completely magical and one of the best days of my life. It was even better than a dream.

I am telling you this because in yesterday's post I also mentioned an earlier mini-book I created that Paula liked. It was my breast cancer story and was called "Evidence of a Life". I have a large white ironstone bowl where I keep my mini-albums. After photographing my "Dreams" album, I went and laid it on the top of the heap, directly on my cancer album. The shock of what I had done was so strong that I almost fell over. The theme of returning dreams had been so prevalent in my life all year, and it had physically manifested itself right here in my family room under the power of my own hands. I am still reeling from the moment.

I no longer doubt that things happen for a reason. I don't necessarily believe that it was pre-ordained that I have cancer. But I believe that if I try to remain open, if I allow my mind it's wild, waves of activity like straw being tossed in the air, eventually the seed will land and the chaff will blow away in the breeze.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Today I went on a Joy Junket!

Honestly, what could be more fun than that? It just sounds awesome, doesn't it?

My good friends Sarah and Suzi have created this fabulous business involving interior design, life coaching, teaching people to get in touch with their inner artists, and living the life they love. I was lucky enough to be asked to be a "guinea pig" for their new class, "Unlocking Your Creative Genius". It was, to say the least, a wonderful and personally inspiring day.

First of all, Sarah and Suzi know how to make anyone feel at home and special. They pampered me and the other "guinea pigs" throughout the day in their crazy-gorgeous studio/office which is located above the restaurant Hell's Burger's in Canal Park. Honestly, I was creatively inspired the second I entered their amazing space.

I don't want to give away any of their secrets, but it was really fabulous. I consider myself to be a very creative person, but the work we did today and the topics we covered can touch all aspects of my life from work, family life, and the way I decorate, to the more serious choices that many women (and men) have to make in their life everyday. Suzi and Sarah are so positive and optimistic, the whole day was focused on feeling empowered. Through a variety of thought provoking activities I had the chance to connect with my passions and intentions in life. It was a truly spectacular, special time and I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of it. I thoroughly enjoyed my fellow "guinea pigs" and hope I will be able to use what I learned to focus on what is important and meaningful to me.

I highly recommend signing up for their next workshop, consulting them for design help, or signing up for some life coaching. At the very least, you have got to catch up on their awesome website where they share tips, videos, inspiring quotes, pictures and much, much more!

Here's a little taste of what I worked on today (some journaling, vision boards, and oh, yes, thanks, Sarah for the tea stained tags! These will be going into a project real soon!)



If you really want to get a great deal, Suzi and Sarah very generously donated a seat in their workshop along with some private coaching time to our Scrap for Survival silent auction to benefit the Young Survival Coalition. (For more on that visit our webpage or our Crop blog!)

Today was an exceptionally great day, as you can see. I came home to a package! Who doesn't love those? But this one was even more special because it looked like this:


"Brown paper packages tied up with string...these are a few of my favorite things!"

Okay, no string here. But I LOVE brown paper wrapped packages...it is so inviting and exciting, even when I know what's inside. (This time it was some Moleskine journals I had ordered!)

And as far as packaging goes, check this out:





This is what I call "happy mail"! It is from an incredibly gifted and artistic designer, Paula Cheney. She works for 7 gypsies, an uber-awesome scrapbooking and crafting supply company. I met Paula at the Craft and Hobby Trade show two years ago. She fell in love with my little breast cancer mini book and paraded it around like it was Michelangelo's David! (God bless her!)She has not only been instrumental in getting 7 gypsies to be a sponsor of our Scrap for Survival, but this is the second year she has donated one of her own homemade items for our silent auction. Her work is amazing! You have got to check out her blog to see the fantastic things she does. Here's a look at what lay under the wrapping:



The details in this book are amazing, and it's just waiting to be personalized.




Today has been an immensely satisfying day. I am so amazed by the creative people around me, the inspiration that is there wherever I look; I just have to remember to slow down and let it wash over me. What a truly joyful junket!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Random thoughts on a sunny winter day

So, I have received more than a few responses to my Christmas letter this year. Everyone keeps saying the same thing: "You should be a professional writer." I have heard that a lot in the past, especially when I was keeping my Tour de Pink blog (which I sincerely miss and plan to start up again when the biking moves outside...I can't wait.)

I am always flattered when people like my writing. It brings back an itch in me that I had since I was a kid. I alternately wanted to be a writer (because I loved to read) or an artist (just like my Grampa). Those were my dreams. In fact, I would often read my stories and poems to my family out loud. It's really one of the few things that I would do that made me feel that I was connecting with them (especially my parents) on a real level.

Many people don't know that I had a hard time choosing between these pursuits when it came time to go to college. I couldn't decide between art or writing. I knew I had some talent for writing; after all I won a James Michener Scholarship to help pay for college. But I also wanted to be an artist; I think because that was what had signified true success in our family. Everyone admired my Grandfather and spoke about him in terms usually reserved for geniuses. So the pull was strong. But I remember my sister trying to help me decide. She frankly told me that I was not that good of an artist. Ouch. But she was probably right.

So, I ended up at the University of Michigan for my first year of college as a pre-English major. The U of M was a huge mistake for me (that's a whole other story) but the English classes I took were top notch. My favorite were the reading and appreciation courses. But I also took a very important course my second semester: poetry. I didn't know it when I signed up but it became pivotal in the direction of my life. There were only a handful of us in that class (an anomaly in my experience at U of M) and I was the only female. There were some really good poets in there. And some not so good. I never knew where I fit. They all had problems with my "emotional" style, my vocabulary...I believe it was all code for "femininity". They weren't being nasty, it was all in the interest of constructive criticism. But I found myself trying hard to write like someone else. Pretty soon I doubted any talent that I might have. (In their defense I occasionally read those old poems I wrote, and they are overwritten windows into the soul of a teenage girl filled with issues and angst. But of course, that's what I was.) Anyway, I started to return to the comfortable desire to draw and do art. It was private and comforting. Eventually I got up the courage to approach my poetry instructor one night after class. It was getting dark, and he was in a hurry to get somewhere. I asked him point blank if he thought I was good enough. (What a question! And so typical: like life is a yes or no answer!) He said "Maybe if you have to ask that question, you know the answer." Ouch again.

Eventually I transferred out of U of M for my sophomore year. I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art because that was where my Grampa had taught; and my parents had attended. (I always assumed I got in because of Grampa.) I can tell you the same worries and creeping thoughts of inadequacy plagued my entire time there. In truth, I never felt at home. I was an academically minded student in a place with people who never showered, enjoyed French black and white movies about nothingness, and never read a book unless they had to. (Of course I'm over-generalizing and mean no disrespect, they were just so much more "artsy" than me, and confident about it.) I know I made the literature and art history teachers very happy: I was probably the only student they had who was truly interested! I enjoyed my time at CIA, and grew artistically. But I was never sure I belonged.

In truth, this feeling has plagued me my whole life; like I have never truly delved into the depths of me. I suspect it is common for all of us. So when people say I should be a writer, I agree. But I say to myself, "Writer of what?" I only know me. I honestly have no idea how I would start. If I'd stayed the course way back in 1985, maybe I would have learned. Regrets. They are everywhere I look. They are in my thoughts when I fall asleep, they are on my mind in the morning. It is impossible to live without regrets. But at the very least I can say I have lived. The search for me continues.

In the end, life has dealt me a big, giant practical joke of sorts: I have a soon-to-be college bound daughter who has her eyes set on....drumroll...art and writing. She is conflicted between the two, doubts her abilities, but is also proud of them. It is all so familiar. Too familiar. She at least has come up with the novel idea to study both at once. She is, unlike her mother, a genius. Of course, I am little help in this discussion. It's too close to my bones. I just hold my breath and believe that she will find her way and have faith.

Life. That's my pursuit. My major. And, truth be told, it may be the only thing I'm good at.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dreaming of Summer

I know it's the end of January, and we've got a long way to go until summer. But still, I can't help feeling myself pulled there. Maybe it's because my office, though quaint due to being in an old building, is very cold and drafty, particularly by the ceiling high windows that I love. Today I found myself in Target, staring at the Smith and Hawken display. They had bright colors, and birdhouses and silk flowers that made me think of words like "new", "young", and "spring". And then there was the end cap full of bright enameled kitchen things. Toys, really. Spinning utensil holders, paper towel holders, bread boxes, and canisters. All in unabashedly sunny summer hues like apple green, robin's egg blue, cherry red, and juicy orange. I wanted them all. I shouldn't torture myself like this. And I sure wish the retail industry would stop adding fuel to the fire. I think it would be less depressing if they kept the shelves stocked with firewood holders, plaid pajamas, and wool socks. At least I wouldn't be tempted to dream this early in the game. And don't even get me started on the "seedling kits". I thought Target was based in Minnesota. That's just downright sadistic!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Letting go...maybe

This is going to be a photo intensive post. I have fnally finished (?) my little book and I am documenting the entire thing here because I think I am going to put it into the silent auction for our scrapbooking event, Scrap for Survival. (For more details on that, visit the crop blog.)I say that I think I'm giving it away because, I'm having a hard time with this. This is why I'm never able to sell anything. All the stuff that I put my heart into, all the stuff that is truly my best (to me), I am in love with. Now, I'm not saying this is the best . It's really unfinished. I envision it full of special photos and memories; it's meant to be a journal, a place to write your secrets and dreams, a place to keep your favorite mementos. So, this is a photo intensive post because if I give it away (to a very worthy cause mind you) I want to remember it in detail. So here goes, my dream journal:


I used all sorts of vintage goodies in here from photcopies of vintage cards to old book pages, corsage pins, and my personal favorite: that pink ribbon with the silver squiggles on it.


I just love the turtle dove story and illustrations from an old book I own.



I used tons of Tattered Angels glimmer mist and Tim Holtz crackle paint to give it that vintage look and tie all the pages together.



One of the fun parts of this project was using pages of varying types, shapes and size and seeing how they would all look layered on each other.


I enjoyed using my paper piercer and some crochet thresad to hand stitch on some of the pages. The page below looks really unfinished to me...I just can't stop tweaking!





These are by far my favorite pages. I love the sequined heart and the vintage image on the inside back cover. Plus who doesn't love a little envelope to hide their secret wish?



So out of this project came my class project for the crop. (We offer three classes as part of the day long event, and I'm teaching at least one.) I'm unveiling the project here because, well, nobody checks my blog so I don't think I'm spoiling anything! Here it is! My altered valentine canvas:


I decided to use the same paint and decoupage on canvas idea, but made it something we can (hopefully) complete in an hour. I thought it would make a nice decoration.


Here's a close-up of the front of the valentine. Again I photocopied a vintage card. I used glimmer mist to alter doilies and give the whole thing a distressed look. I glittered some brads, and made my own paper (inked up computer paper sprayed with glimmer mist) to punch flowers and matt the image on the back which is the backside of another postcard. I love it! It says: "To Gramma, From Ralph". Perfect!



So that's what I've been up to. Now I just need to learn to be able to break the chains of motherly love. Any helpful hints would be great!

Evidence of a Life