Saturday, June 30, 2012

49 Is Not Old

As I write this blog 49-year old Penny Palfrey is halfway through her Straits of Florida swim from Havana, Cuba to the Florida Keys. At last report the Australian endurance swimmer was 25 hours and 48 miles into her swim. Not bad for a Grandmother.

Of course the fact that her being a "Grandmother" far overshadowed that she is a long-time endurance swimmer. CNN made it sound like she was a feeble granny attempting this venture. She is anything but weak. Palfrey is swimming the strait without a wetsuit or a shark cage. This is unheard of given that these waters have plenty of sharks and jellyfish that sting. She does have a high tech electrical field around her that is designed to deter any passing sharks. It must work as she is still swimming away toward Florida.

More power to her or anyone else who would attempt such a swim. I am a not a great swimmer and treading water is taxing for me. My stroke is the back float. It doesn't look like she is back floating to Florida. I am in awe of anyone who would even attempt to swim 90 miles in shark infested waters. This is without a rest. She's swimming on through the night at a nice clip and not stopping for a quick nap on one of the boats that is trailing her. She is actually doing a swim that most could only imagine. Does it really matter if she is 49, 29, or 69? I don't think so. I'll be watching to see if she makes it to Florida.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Big Ben Forever

When thinking of London a few visual images come to mind: double-decker buses, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and Big Ben. But wait, it's not Big Ben anymore. The iconic clock tower at the foot of the Thames and part of the Houses of Parliament is now Elizabeth Tower. I think Elizabeth Tower sounds like the name of a rather wide and eccentric British woman character in a Hugh Grant film. I'm wondering if anybody will really call Big Ben by it's new name of Elizabeth Tower?
Last week as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Parliament renamed the ornate clock tower Elizabeth Tower to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's 60 years of service. A nice gesture but why didn't they create something new to name after her. Isn't that what they used to do? Build a castle or errect a monument or obelisk in honor of a royal. Create a new breed of her beloved Corgi and name the new dog breed in her honor. Since the Olympics are also occuring in her Diamond year, maybe it would be fitting to name the new Olympic Aquatics Center after Queen Elizabeth. Sorry but naming Big Ben after Queen Elizabeth just sounds wrong despite all of her years as a monarch. But then what do I know, I'm just an American with a distinct picture of London in my head. That picture includes Big Ben. 

Just so you won't sound naive and need to have a Brit fill you in on the finer details of British clock tower history, Big Ben is actually the name of the huge bell that rings from the clock tower. (I noticed that I have a Big Ben bell in my alarm clock.) Technically they have named the gothic clock tower Elizabeth, but the Big Ben bell has not changed. It's still there ringing out those Westminster chimes.

So it's really a non-issue after all. Queen Elizabeth should be happy to have the most famous clock in the world named after her. She may be the only one who refers to Big Ben as the Elizabeth Tower. To the rest of us, Big Ben remains.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Not Quite the Summer of 1980

Remember the summer of 1980? It was hot. We biked all over town with our friends, played tennis at the high school courts, watched as Bjorn Borg defeated John McEnroe at Wimbledon, went camping with the family, and read lots of books to combat the boredom.

Welcome to summer 2012! The summer activities are in full swing and hours have already been logged behind the wheel, shuttling kids to and from practices, games, and camps. If you are a parent (or grandparent) of school-age kids, you know all too well what I'm talking about. It's baseball, basketball, music lessons, golf lessons and tee times, trips to the mall to meet up with friends, VBS, summer camps. I'll just stop right here. The list is endless and the kid activity schedule relentless.

Who is to blame for all of this over scheduling of kids during their summer vacation? That would be me—Mom and the rest of the parents. I think it's complete parent peer pressure at it's worst. We parents all talk about which camps and activities we have signed up for and want our kids to have just as much of an opportunity as all of their friends. If I discover that everyone else's kid is doing a certain camp, I haven't signed my kid up, and registration has closed, I will do whatever it takes and somehow find an open slot for my kid.

Then the coaches chime in with informative letters and e-mails loaded up with suggested activities that will help ensure your child-athlete's success on a particular team in the fall. Read between the lines here—Timmy really should take this camp and this training session as well as participate in these weekend tournaments. Otherwise Timmy may be all suited up, but sitting on the bench for the football season.

You can deny this is happening, but you know it's true! Take for example the schedule of one of my son's friends who plays on a number of high school teams. He started off the day with a 90 minute weight training session, followed by a 50-minute Acceleration (speed training on treadmills) session. Then he gets an hour off before going to 3 hours of driver's ed. He wraps up the afternoon with a two-hour basketball practice and probably a baseball game that evening. This kid is only 15! But he will play. He is a great athlete, and he is following all of the coaches summer recommendations for particular sport. He's just lucky he has a parent who can drive him around to all of these activities and the funds to support his high school sports career.

I resolved not the sign up for anything and have a free summer. I nearly made it through the end of the school year until I completely caved in and started madly signing the kids up for summer activities. Why did I give in? I want to see them succeed and not sit on the bench. As much as I hate all of the driving involved and complain about the crazy schedules, I love my kids and will endure hours behind the wheel on gorgeous summer days to cart them around. However, I do think it's unfair that kids who do not participate in all of the camps and training activities surrounding a particular sport are penalized. Time to stop playing politics with our kid's sports and just let them play!

My kids are experiencing the complete opposite of my summer of 1980. I realize that the world has changed and kids cannot bike all over the place on their own. They can play a game of football on the side yard, go for a swim in the nearby lake, or actually pull out a book and do some reading. All is not lost!  But today is technically only the first day of summer so I should have some time to salvage some unorganized fun for the summer of 2012.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Day for Dads

Happy Father's Day to all of you Dads out there! A day of sleeping in, a day of being showered with gifts from your kids, a day of watching golf, and a day of not driving or chasing around after your kids. For me it means Dad's choice for dinner, which is dinner out and not cooked by me!

More than anything though—thank you.

Our kids with their Dad
Thank you to Patrick, the Dad of my children, for sharing this wild ride of parenting together—all of the joys, sorrows, thrills and exasperations usually experienced all in one day. Thank you for dealing with the boys when they push me beyond my limits.

Thank you to my grandfather Thad who could not teach me how to whistle as beautifully as he could, but he taught me how to dance a mean polka, leaving me gasping for breath after spinning around the dance floor. Thank you to my grandfather Norbert  who taught me of the bounty of a garden, how to burn trash in a barrel, and had me drinking green tea decades before it became the rage.

Christianna and her Dad
And to my own Dad, Dave, who taught me to stand up for what I believe, that it's okay to shed a tear when you say goodbye, and to just go off exploring and see what lies around the next bend or down that untrodden path.

To all of you Dads who have taught us life lessons, cheered our triumphs, wiped away our tears, listened to our stories, and spent hours at ballet and basketball. Thank you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tattoo You

What is up with all of the tattoos? They are prevalent especially now that it's finally summer and skin is on display. It's not just the young rebels out there anymore. It's "ladies of a certain age" bearing subtle and sometimes not so hidden away tattoos.

I see such a wide variety of tattoo art on display at my Lifetime Athletic club where I regularly work out. One afternoon an absolutely stunning young woman in her 20s walked in whose left side of her body was enveloped in this sort of serpent tattoo that started on her neck, worked it's way down her left arm, and sheathed her left leg in a vivid red, yellow, and black snake. This snake tattoo engulfing the entire left side of her body really was more than eye catching. You could not stop staring at her. Maybe she wanted this attention. She certainly didn't need a serpent tattoo to engage an audience as she was beautiful to begin with. But then weren't we all stunning at age 21!

Let's fast forward 20 years. Now she is 41 with 3 kids and a desk job for over a decade. Maybe a few too may trips to the local Dairy Queen tossed in. She certainly stopped frequenting her local athletic club. That serpent isn't exactly enticing anymore. Skin that was once taunt is now a bit stretched out. Calves are not remotely sculpted and that snake on her forearm is a bit saggy. Impressive now? Probably not. You know what I mean. Will these beautiful people really want to live their entire lives with a snake wrapped around the left side of their body? And wouldn't it be really expensive and painful to get that snake completely removed when you decide you're over it?

My favorite "what was that person ever thinking" tattoo was spotted at a cheap pancake place on the strip in Virginia Beach with my sister and cousin. A rather hefty man in his early 20s was sporting a bright red sunburn, cut-offs, flip flops, and a wife beater t-shirt. His tattoo placed boldly on the back of his neck said it all: Red Neck. (No I'm not making this up!) His tattoo so completely and accurately encompassed himself in two words.

Have I gone down that tattoo route? Some secrets are best kept to myself. Let's just say I have no snakes overwhelming my body. To each his own.

I'm so hoping this is just Photoshopped in.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Reads

I'm always looking for a good summer read. Having recently been inundated by requests for books, I thought I'd share a few odd and eclectic favorites. Sorry no Shades of Grey on this list. Feel free to post some of your favorite beach or cabin reads in my comment section.

  • Just Kids Patti Smith (Absolutely loved this book!)
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail Cheryl Strayer (A good adventurous summer escape read that is a true story.)
  • The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon (For all of you Barcelona lovers out there)
  • Heaven Is For Real Todd Burpo (True story? You be the judge)
  • Love In the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez (A classic)
  • One Day David Nicholls (Beach reading)
  • The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins (Loved the first one, not so crazy about the rest)
  • The Harry Potter series JK Rowling (How could you have not read these yet??)
  • The Road Cormac McCarthy (Still trying to finish this one)
  • Mudbound Hillary Jordan (I can just visualize this as a movie.)
  • The Book Thief Markus Zusak (Another classic. Children's lit but worth a read) 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Getting Down and Dirty with the Girls—LoziLu Twin Cities Mud Run

Fellow Mud Rukker, Gretchen,
who convinced me to mud run
I'm learning that spontaneity is the key to life. Why else would I even consider running in a "mud run"? Of course I'll do it, and signed up a mere three days before the race. I really had no idea what all was involved with a "mud run" when I spontaneously agreed to join my friend Gretchen's team for a Saturday morning run. The name of our team, Mud Rukkers, clued me in. Even delving into the LoziLu website the night before the race did not quite prepare me for my first mud run.

I am traditionally a solitary runner—me and my i-Pod. Usually indoors on a treadmill. Not the case when you're running a mud run. In case you're like me and had never heard of such a thing, let me give you a few details. These races are run outdoors, off-trail (that meant in the hilly fields and through the woods on a bumpy unpaved surface), through mud pits (although you do have the option to go around the mud), over/through a series of obstacles, and it was hot out (no air conditioning on this run). The Twin Cities LoziLu was for women only, most were in groups in full costume, and of all ages and fitness abilities. And unlike some mud/obstacle runs, there were no live wires that gave you a zap if you messed up and accidentally grazed an obstacle. However, there was one mud pit that we all crawled through that smelled suspiciously like manure.

The pristine Mud Rukkers before the run
The 13 Mud Rukkers were in the 10 am wave of racers, and I'm guessing that there were at least 25-30 other runners in our wave. This nearly 5K race started off dashing around a lake, stepping carefully down a steep and sandy embankment to the first set of obstacles that required climbing up over fences and underneath other fences. No mud yet. Just wood chips.

The dozen or so obstacles on this course had amusing names like: "Bad Hair Day, Lost Earring, and Walk the Runway". The team favorite "Slip n Slide" was around the 1 mile mark and was exactly that. A huge slip n slide positioned on the down slope of a hill. This involved getting yourself a bit wet in one of the sprinklers on the slip n slide, then taking a running leap onto the wet plastic. I choose stomach first and went cruising into the wet, muddy grass at the bottom. Way too much fun!

I also really enjoyed the "Fish Nets" near the end of the course. This was a 15-20 foot climb up to the top of a fishnet rope obstacle then climbing back down. Exhilarating! Other obstacles included a couple of walks through some really nasty (and freezing cold) Minnesota ponds. Thank you to Gina and Lori for saving me from going under in that "Hot Mess"! A series of huge balance beams that were pretty easy to maneuver going up but coming back down on the narrow, slippery boards proved a bit tricky.

The LoziLu course planners saved the best for last. The "Mud Bath". The Mud Rukkers figured we did this course to get down and dirty so we did, diving face first into a pit of Minnesota mud and crawling underneath ropes to get out of the pit. We all experienced a new kind of dirty.

The mucky ladies after the Mud Run
The best part of running with The Mud Rukkers is that we were in this as a team. Complete camaraderie! We usually regrouped after each obstacle or at least stopped to do some dancing at the water holes. After our final dive into the mud and 55 minutes on the course, we all crossed the finish line together, cheering and pumping our arms in the air. We did it!

We stopped to pose for a few pictures from our crowd of fans then jumped into the nearby lake to clean off. Everyone ditched their knee socks as these were caked in mud and full of burrs from one of the pond obstacles. Time for refreshments . . . unlike most races I've run, this race had a beer and wine stand at the end in addition to the usual bananas and waters.

Would I do this again? Absolutely! So don't be surprised if I try to recruit you to run with the Mud Rukkers next June!
The author climbing up out of the mud pit.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What Is the Meaning of This?

I'm hoping one of my readers can help me solve a little mystery that I've seen frequenting the roads around the Twin Cities. It's this little white window sticker with letters:
I know that the picture is a bit fuzzy but that's what happens when all of a sudden you look at the car ahead of you and there's that window sticker again. Sort of looks like the shape of Ohio (a stretch I know) with an "e, l or b, and a c". Is this a hockey thing? Some educational group or school logo? Is it an image that I'm not seeing? Or a bizarre new cult with these stickers attached to their cars, driving around the north Metro St. Paul recruiting new members. If anyone has any insights, please share!

This all started back in the days of living in the Washington, DC suburbs when this sticker started appearing on cars in the snarled Northern Virginia traffic. OBX. At first I thought it meant "obnoxious" because it seemed that everyone with this particular sticker was a completely obnoxious driver. Then I figured out it stands for the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which is a traditional escape from the DC area. 

This whole deciphering bumper stickers game is now transferring to the next generation. My daughter, who is learning to drive, has taken a new interest decrypting bumper stickers. Her most recent perplexing one is "Coexist".

Coexist is pretty easy if you can identify all of the symbols involved: Islamic star, the star of David, the peace symbol, the Christian cross, and those other Eastern religions. What's the message these drivers are trying to send? Peace, end war, love your neighbor, lets all just get along. That's all great, until the guy with the Coexist sticker won't let you merge in front of him. Where's the love in that? If you're bold enough to display peace on your bumper sticker, shouldn't you live it?

Perhaps it's due to all of the tedious hours I spend driving around that decoding bumper stickers takes on new meaning. It's amusing and always makes me wonder what sort of person would actually put that particular bumper sticker on their car. Having been nearly run off of the road for a particular political bumper sticker by someone obviously in disagreement with me, no political persuasion stickers for my back bumper. I guess I could put Romney on the right and Obama on the left to Coexist with all of those other OBX drivers out there! 

Now if someone could just decipher the "ebc" mystery for me.