Eyebrow Convention

November 24, 2009

Two bits of sad news:

1) I have many first cousins and don’t know any of them personally because of family disputes between our parents.

2) My Aunt died last week.

One bit of incredible news:

I got to meet my cousins at the funeral.

Having always felt a little bit on the outside of my immediate family, I have throughout my life been drawn to friends with big, strong, loving families.  Consequently, I have many, many people in my life who feel like family but are not.

After this weekend I have more people in my life who actually are family and that, my friends, is quite an awesome feeling.

It was a sad funeral (I suppose they all are – this was actually my first ever) and a little bizarre because Great Uncle Fred passed out partway through the service and was taken away in an ambulance.  My Aunt was a really awesome person and I remember her fondly from my childhood before the families started arguing.  It was obvious that she had touched the lives of everyone there and will not be forgotten.  I felt a great deal of regret that I had not made the effort to visit her since I moved back here last winter.

The wake was about as awesome as a wake can be.  We went back to my cousin’s house where I “met” and hung out with three of my first cousins and got to know their wives and kids a little.  I remember being very little and following one of my cousins around wherever he went.  I had to fight the urge to do the same in adulthood since he is just as cool as he was when he was fourteen, even though that was nearly 30 years ago.

The funny thing about seeing a bunch of my relatives in one place is that we all have identical, dark, unruly eyebrows.  I kept laughing to myself about how similar we all looked and how amazing genetics are.  The feeling of meeting people who were my flesh and blood relatives was unreal.  And these were just my cousins – I cannot imagine what it must be like for people who have been adopted and track down their birth parents or siblings!!!

Anyway, now that we’ve found each other, we have a lot of catching up to do.  We’re all going out tomorrow for one cousin’s birthday and I can hardly wait.

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Night Swimming

October 24, 2009

It seems I have abandoned the pool in favor of the ocean.  I have found myself a merry group of swimmers who meet at 6.30am every week day for a few thousand meters of ocean bliss.  While I know that 6.30am does not constitute night swimming, I think it probably has all of the same mystique and adrenaline-induced thinking patterns.

It is pitch black at 6.30 in the morning.  When we jump into the ocean we can barely see an outstretched arm in front of our faces.  The sky is dark and starry, and the water even darker.  On a calm morning the only thing you can see clearly is the sparkly green phosphorescence caused by our movements in the water.

And thus, invigorated and often fearful, we begin swimming into the darkness.  There are really fast swimmers and slower swimmers and on any given day I’m willing to be either if it means I have a swimming buddy to make me feel safer.

I usually spend the first several hundred meters sifting through my various emotions.  I am terrified of what might lurk beneath us in the dark.  I am elated to be swimming under the stars, literally immersed in nature and absorbing its beauty with my every breath.  Some days I feel so happy to be in that water at that time with those people, that I can barely contain myself and the only thing stopping me from grinning while I swim is the thought of accidentally swallowing a larval jellyfish through my smile (easy to do, I assure you).

Once we get to the turning-around point we tread water (or stand if it’s shallow) and wait for everyone to congregate in a sacred swimmer’s circle of laughter and chatter.  We talk about what we encountered (driftwood?  a fish?  some seaweed?) and count heads before swimming back.  On the way back, the sky turns a dark navy, and the oranges and reds start to make their appearance as the sun peeks over the horizon.  My phosphorescent superpower disappears and is replaced with shadows of coral and fish as the water turns a deep turquoise.  I try to savor every moment and every ounce of magic.  I remember to myself how fortunate I am to be alive and I give thanks to the Universe for another day.

Shoshin

October 5, 2009

Shoshin“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi

In college I had occasion to work with an amazing mentor who helped me a great deal in refining my approach to sport.  One of the things he talked about was the Zen Buddhist concept of Shoshin or Beginner’s Mind.  He was always reminding me to approach things with the curiosity and clean slate of a toddler, not bringing my preconceptions with me to the athletic table.  From time to time I remember to experiment with this concept and I usually learn something from the experience.  For a while now I have been wanting to learn something completely new so I can have a genuine beginner’s mind and can reconnect with that feeling.

With that in mind, I joined the local women’s lacrosse team last week.

GB started playing hockey for the first time this summer and it was so much fun to witness the falling-in-love-with-a-new-sport process.  Every hockey day GB’s eyes would light up at the thought of playing and it got me thinking about starting something new of my own.  Although I have played my fair share of team sports including soccer, field hockey, and rugby, I have never so much as touched a lacrosse stick or watched a lacrosse game.  Which means that lacrosse it the perfect avenue for me to practice having a beginner’s mind.  I do not know the rules of play, the positions, the equipment, or really ANYTHING about this sport.   I did not eve know how hard the ball would be or whether it would be bouncy.  It’s all new, new, new.  And very exciting.

I could barely contain myself all day on Saturday and was elated when 3.30pm finally rolled around.  I didn’t know anyone on the team and even that was an exciting prospect for me.  The coaches handed me a stick and off we went to do drills.  Since part of my mission in taking on a new sport was to practice having a beginner’s mind I decided to learn how to play lacrosse left-handed.  I’m right-hand dominant so I figure my right hand can always catch up later.  It’s much easier to learn a new skill with your non-dominant hand first and I figure I should use that window of forgiveness granted to new players to putz around with my weakest side.  That way my mistakes will be attributed to my newness and not to my pfaffing with my non-dominant hand.

Being a beginner was so refreshing.  I let go of a lot of my usual expectations of myself and allowed myself to soak things up and ask questions.  I forgave myself my mistakes and I watched others to learn from their skills as much as possible.  I even tried not to apologize when I made a bad pass (is that what they call it?) or dropped the ball.  Consequently, I had an absolute blast.  I worked pretty hard out there and really enjoyed myself during the end-of-practice scrimmage.

I still have a few weeks of keeping my head in the triathlon game, but it sure is fun to know that a new and exciting sport is waiting in the wings.

Maintaining the Magic

September 26, 2009

This morning I was reading an interesting blog article about how to keep the magic in your relationship.  I was ‘noogling’ as I call it when I’m surfing the internet with no real destination. Oddly these are often the times I stumble upon the most profound things.

The article listed twenty-one bonding behaviors that contribute to couples staying in love.  Reading the list, I realized that of these twenty-one behaviors, only three are possible with an ocean of distance between us.  These three are: giving unsolicited approval via compliments, listening intently and restating what you hear, and providing a service or treat without being asked.

The list made me ache for all eighteen behaviors we cannot do at the moment, especially the simple things like smiling at each other.  It also made me realize how important those three that I do have are; how important it is that I listen carefully during our phone calls and send snail mail letters whenever possible.  Certainly GB and I are having a much easier time being apart this time than we were in January, but we need to continue to nurture whatever ‘togetherness’ we have whenever we can. 

Fortunately GB will be here in almost exactly two weeks, so we can catch up on all the other bonding behaviors.  In the meantime, I will listen as carefully and intently as I can.

Back on the Rock

September 20, 2009

I can’t believe it has been a month since I last posted!  I am back on the rock and fully in the swing of teaching again.  GB and I seem to be having an easier time being apart this time.  We are both busier than we were last year and I think now that we know we can still be ‘us’ after long stretches apart, we are feeling more relaxed about another year apart.  Also, GB will be here visiting in 3 weeks and I will be going back to MN for a week in November, so we know we have trips together coming up soon.

I have continued my training although I will admit, after I achieved ALL my season goals in my last race, I have been feeling a little less motivation to continue racing until November.  However, I have a sprint race next weekend and am excited to see how that goes.  My bike finally arrived yesterday (I shipped it here) and I put it together so I’m excited to ride that instead of my commuter mountain bike.  Swimming has been going reasonably well and running is about the only thing that hasn’t been interrupted at all by my geographic move across the world.  It is hotter than hot here, which means I have to do all my running before the sun comes up.  This makes for really peaceful running and really short nights of sleep.

Of course, I miss the dogs (especially the Finn man) but GB gives me regular updates and I will see them again in 2 months.

Anyway, life is good.  No complaints here.  I will post pictures of this spectacular island soon.

One Year

August 18, 2009

On Sunday GB and I had our first wedding anniversary.  I think in some ways we were dreading it a little because our wedding was so amazing and so far above any other experience either of us has ever had that we knew our anniversary would not compare.  However, we really had the most amazing day and were able to reminisce about our wedding without being sad about the fact that we won’t be living together (or even in the same country) for another year.

We played a shocking amount of The Farming Game, a board game from GB’s youth that we both love, played some cards, did our respective workouts, hung out with the dogs, went out and played pool, and had the most romantic dinner ever at our newly-discovered restaurant on the river.  It’s weird to think about how little of our first year of marriage we actually spent in the same country.  And this year will be even less, but with the hope of being reunited next Fall for good.

It’s starting to feel like my return to the Island is imminent.  All signs point to Fall: the corn is now taller than I am, my priority race is just around the corner, and the back-to-school commercials have started.  Although I’m sad to be going back and leaving GB and the dogs, I am looking forward to being back at work and to having a routine.  I can only handle this summer vacation business for so long before I go a little loopy.  I’ve been studying for the GRE, but that doesn’t account for 10 hours in a day.  I’m also considering taking up mountain biking when I go back to the rock.  I’ve always been a little scared of it, but I’m leaning towards bike commuting for this year and that would require a mountain bike to be off the road and out of the traffic.  If I have a mountain bike, I might as well compete, right?  We’ll see.I still have four triathlon events between now and November, so I need to stay healthy for that.

Jack, taking a break in the shade

Jack, taking a break in the shade

Finn having fun in the warm weather

Finn having fun in the warm weather

It has been so great having the dogs around all summer.  Finn seems really well adjusted to life on the farm here and he seems a little less freaked out by my long-time disappearances and short appearances in his life.  I wish I could take him back with me, but that wouldn’t be the best choice for any of us since he’s such a neurotic dog, so I’ll just have to settle for being happy that he’s happy and knowing that GB is doing an awesome job of taking care of both of them.

And now, off to do a couple of workouts.  I’m well into my taper now and my body is possibly on the upswing.  My last few runs have felt loose and quick, so maybe the taper is working.

Feeling a Little Different

August 10, 2009

Clearly having fun

Yesterday I did a small-town sprint tri and chased after the still-elusive win.  My cousin-in-law was also racing and it was his first tri, so there was no shortage of family support, making for a really fun race.

It was the first triathlon I’ve ever done that had a pool swim.  Interesting, to say the least.  We ranked ourselves for heat assignments and then had to decide amongst our randomly-assigned lanemates who should lead and who should follow.  You can imagine how those conversations went.  So…are you fast?  nope.  you? nope.

Anyway, my two lanemates and I got it figured out pretty well and the swim ended up being fairly painless.  I have to say, I am so at home in a pool that I wanted the swim portion to go on and on.  Sadly, it only lasted 500m and then I was off into anaerobic hell for an hour.  I had forgotten how different sprint racing is than Olympic distance.

I had a solid ride and in spite of three close calls, made it back to T2 safely.  I did get schooled in a big way on the bike by the woman who won the race.  I had a decent lead out of the pool, but I was no match for her on the bike.  She blew by me at lightning speed and it was only a few minutes before I couldn’t tell her apart from the mailboxes in the distance.

Although my run was not shockingly fast, I’m really pleased with how it went.  I have put a lot of mental and physical energy into my run this season and I have felt a real shift of late.  I really feel like I take the run on aggressively now rather than just enduring it and hanging on.  I felt strong and fast and was actually enjoying myself on the run yesterday which is an enormous deal for me.  All those workouts on the black track in the mid-day heat with no shade – those are what I remembered when I was on the run.  Those are the workouts I have in the bank that bolster me when the pain sets in.

Slowly, slowly, I am getting there.  I am turning into the triathlete I want to become.  Lots of days it feels like nothing has changed: I do the workouts, I eat the food, I dream about how things will be.  But days like yesterday remind me that I am actually there.  This is the stuff – it’s the consistent, often not-especially-exciting training that is moving me in the right direction.  The richness comes from doing the little things consistently and well.  Winning would be fun, but nothing is better than the feeling that I am improving and growing as an athlete and a person.  Except maybe the feeling of GB smiling and screaming at me from the side of the road while all the pieces of my training come together in a race.