Sunday, November 13, 2016

Masters Forever

In August, I started swimming with a masters swim team at UIC. A number of things led me to go back to swimming, mainly body aches and boredom with workout routines. 

It's been truly wonderful to be the almost-slowest in the pool again. I think swimming gave me the good quality of being able to laugh at myself. Because sometimes, try as you may, you are just going to be slower than all the other 60 year olds in the pool. 

My favorite lane mate is named Dave. He's 59 and I'm positive he was hyperactive as a child. He's so fast, and he makes fun of me by calling me a "fitness swimmer." Not infrequently, he passes me up and has to be the lane leader, and then he makes me count down the seconds until the next interval since he can't see the clock. It delights me every time. 

I admire his energy and enthusiasm at 59, and I swim faster when he's there. I want to be a cool old person who's still killing it in the pool in 20 years. 

I also signed up for a masters swim meet in Munster, Indiana in November. It was a good goal to work towards, and it was fun to see what adrenaline could do for my race times. It turns out I'm still slower than when I was 23 which was slower than when I was 17, but I guess that's normal and I was pretty happy with my times considering I'd only been swimming 2-3 hours/week vs 20 hours/week. 

Also cool at the masters meet was that there were people of all walks and ages there to compete. College kids, mom's and dads, 70 year olds! No matter your time, everyone was happy to cheer you on for just being there. That 68 year old who finished her 50 free more than a lap behind everyone else was amazing. She finished and didn't care. Or maybe she did, but I couldn't tell and she was my hero. 

Anyways, I suppose it's now time to enter into my swimming era part 2. Maybe one day I'll figure out how to be faster but I won't count on it. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Chicago's Historic November 2016

Last week I said that I didn't care about baseball, but I cared about history.  Then the Cubs won the World Series! For the first time in 108 years! The ultimate underdog story -- the notoriously losing team winning the National League and qualifying for the World Series, then recovering from a 3-1 loss-win to come from behind and take it all, in a 10-inning 7th game with a dramatic rain delay after the 9th inning.

Chicago went wild. Every window was filled with silhouettes of people jumping up and down, people ran exuberantly in the streets, whooping and cheering could be heard across the city in every neighborhood. Everyone walked with excitement and confidence in every step, congratulating each other on "our" win. Everyone felt united and together! The Cubs did it for us! We were part of history! Everyone at work was zombies from celebrating too hard for too many nights in a row!

And up to this point, I'd say that I don't care about politics. But again, we made history. Trump also represents an unbelievable win, unexpected and unprecedented in American history in many ways.

Chicago went quiet. Every face in the streets, on the bus, and on the train felt blank. Every conversation I passed in the street was about the election -- commentary on this year's divisive campaigns, speculation on what the future could look like, how his win could represent "our" country. We were part of history. Everyone at work was zombies from wondering too hard how this happened.

Leading up to the election, a lot of people kept saying that they "couldn't wait for it to be over." I'd respond that it was actually just beginning, but I didn't know that I'd be so right either. I don't have a big agenda for calls-to-action or justice, but I stop and think about how this is history and that anything and anyone is always a possibility. 

And I suppose it's that thought that I should remember to motivate me to stay involved and pay attention to things I haven't cared about. Because we are part of history.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fall Firsts

Had a freshly-fried apple cider donut at County Line Orchard. It was amazingly hot and crisp and fragrant and tender. 
Took another winning photo with Mark, first one in a pumpkin patch.
Decided Halloween was OK and rocked generic-mostly-Wonder Woman with my sidekick Robin.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Letter to Kendra

A dear friend from Austin show choir passed earlier this year. Her death was sudden and tragic, but she has beautiful family and friends who have honored her in wonderful ways. One way was to take her ashes to the west coast and read letters written by loved ones before sending her out to sea. I got to write her a letter to bid her farewell for now.

Dear Kendra,

How are you? We've missed you since you've been gone. As a believer in after-lives, I like to think that you're just onto many new and exciting adventures. You're probably singing even more now than you were before. Everyone there is really lucky.

But you're not here with us, and that makes us sad. I still can't believe you're gone, honestly. I also couldn't believe how hard I cried at your "Tribute to Kendra" party as I call it -- it's amazing that everyone you know also felt you were such a wonderful and strong, beautiful, spirited presence. I thought about how long I knew you, and it was only 2 short years there in Austin. But I realized that knowing you impacted me so much, more than I even realized.

I love your sparkly eyes and the bounce in your step. You're so energetic and cool like that.

I love how you're an "older" lady, AND you're just as silly as I am. I love seeing older people that are wonderful and energetic and cool and funny -- something I only realized is possible more recently.

I love that you're smart and unashamed to make your voice heard.

I love that you're patient and want to help people grow, at their own speed.

I love that you helped me choose my little Ohana ukulele. She sings for you.

I love that you were far more musically talented than any of us at show choir, but you never made us feel that way. You just wanted to sing and dance, and you let us come along for the show too.

I love that your husband loves you so much -- it's really cool to see a strong bond and deep love like that.

Thank you for being you.

I joined a karaoke league, and the league manager reminds me of you. She has curly hair, sparkly eyes, wears glasses, and obviously loves the silly in singing just like you. It makes me happy to see her and think of you while I get my weekly dose of mini-show-choir time.

We miss you a lot, and I hope the ocean takes care of your heart and your songs.  I'll think of you the next time I see the ocean.  Maybe you'll have the ocean wave back at me. ;)

See you soon, Dear Kendra.

With love,

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Napa Photo Essay, AKA the most productive anyone's ever been before a 5 PM wedding

Went for a cold morning run and saw the sun rise from the hills of Glen Ellen. 
Met a goat who came up and said hi to me when I walked up. 
She wanted to jump over the fence. I said, you stay there and then ran away. 
Rented a bike at Napa Valley Bike Rental and bikes through Yountville.
We sang a made-up song while biking 14 miles of beautiful scenery.
Stopped by a vineyard and winery and practiced taking selfies on a bike on the isolated path.
 I asked this man, "Should I wait in this line for Bouchon Bakery?"
He said yes. And he was right even if they were out of the sandwich I'd originally wanted. This is the ham & gruyere (tuna nicoise was out).
Then I got ready in a hurry to make it to this lovely wedding. I cried, because I'm a woman now.
Then Mark and I practiced expressing feelings of love.
It was one of those sparkly kind of days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

AT on KW of the West

This is Kaye. 

She is determined, endlessly curious, a seasoned botanist, a true woman of the West, has a photographic memory, and a true Christian and loving heart. She would also win the Hunger Games without blinking an eye. 

Kaye met my mom at Utah State in Logan in the 70s. Their chance meeting is one of the many polished stories Kaye loves to tell over and over again. Fei was sitting in the front row of the class furiously trying to take notes while the professor only lectured in a low voice facing the board. At the end of class, Fei turned around with tears running down her face, muttering, "I no can do." Kaye offered to let her borrow her notes after each class and their friendship began. 

Their college stories cover all the best-of topics that a newly immigrated FOB could learn from a true American: lime jello with bananas, how to celebrate Thanksgiving, learning to go to the university cheese factory to collect free cheese samples and then recruiting all the foreign Chinese students to do the same, demanding a copy of that "golden Mormon bible" from across the classroom, and surviving the cemetery as a shortcut without ancestor ghosts following them out (so we think).

Fei loves to ask questions and Kaye loves to give answers. Neither of them can ever stop talking, and sometimes that leaves both of them talking without anyone to listen to them, except me. The simultaneous monologue is not the kind that merits or asks for a response -- a scientific tour guide of all the names of the wildlife we're passing from Kaye, and commentary on how fascinating that baby trees can grow on the sides of rocks from Fei. They talk just as easily as most people breathe, or fart and then leave you to deal with it. 

I've had almost two full weeks to spend with them this year, and I've nearly gone crazy from it. But at the same time, they are hilarious to observe and it's very precious to see how a friendship can continue to give 40 years later. 

Kaye, we are lucky to benefit from your endless love, and District 13 proudly supports you in the Hunger Games. We know that you will return our victor without a doubt. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

AT on UT

I've spent the last couple of days trekking across the great west with the dynamic duo of Kaye and Fei, Joy, and a cooler that fed us in Melodie's stead. 

In short, it was tiring and scenic. Unstoppable Kaye drove over 400 miles over the 4 days between driving from St George, Utah to Logan, Salt Lake City, Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks, and Kolob Canyon. That was just day 1. Day 2 included Pioneer Park, Zion National Park, and then Kanab. Day 3 was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with several stops along different outlook points. Here are some highlights from each day. 

Night 1
We arrived in SLC and were scheduled to pick up food from Whole Foods and bring it to the Woolfs for dinner. Mom kept asking me where everything was in the Whole Foods and seemed surprised every time I told her I actually hadn't been to the Whole Foods in Draper, Utah before. 

We stopped at Kaye's son's house on the way to say hi and get a full tour of their basement renovations and garden boxes. Their 4 kids were delighted to show us around and pick all of their mom's vegetables to give to us. 
Pumpkin, Cucumbers, Peppers, Green Peppers, Tomatoes, Beets, Mom...just a few things in their garden.
The Woolfs were just as gracious and kind as I remember them. They're also just as old as I remember's just like they froze in time. There just weren't any butter toffee or cocker spaniels this time. 
I made some friends at the Woolfs.
Day 1
Kaye picked us up at 6 am and we rolled out at 630 am so we could start our ambitious national park trek before rush hour traffic. That lady can drive. I can sleep. We used our fortes to multi-task. 

Our first stop was the Red Canyons, gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park. Here we learned about our favorite tree the whole trip: the ponderosa pine. It has reddish bark and the pine needles grow in groups of 3 in each piney growth. The best part is that the bark smells like butterscotch and vanilla. The connection to food really drove home with us. 
Kaye teaching Joy about Ponderosa Pines.
At Bryce Canyon National Park, we went to Sunset Point to the lookout point and then the Navajo Loop Trail. Kaye guided Fei to only go down a couple switchbacks so that she could also make the walk back up the incline. Fei kept wanting to go further down but Kaye kept her in check. Reports are that going back up 4 back and forth was plenty hard so it was the right decision. 
View down into the Navajo Trail.
Fei and Kaye

Joy and I continued through the Navajo Trail which is just a good 1.3 miles, though with a fairly steep incline on the way back. We loved it - the trail takes you through a deep crevasse and then around and back up to Sunset Point. What's really cool is how quiet it is as you go down, even if there are 2 tour buses of Japanese school boys right behind you. 
Made it to the rock where everyone takes photos!

After our hike and picnic, we headed to Cedar Breaks. It's called Cedar breaks because of cedar...and breaks refer to how the rocks break...away....I did read that informational panel Kaye led me to. I was too cold at this point that was 10,350 feet up so I promptly ran back inside after we took a photo with a ranger who excitedly took a picture with us instead of for us. I wore her hat anyway to humor her. 

The last stop was Kolob Canyon. At this point I was pretty tired and jaded by nature, even though I recognized it was pretty. Then Unstoppable Kaye charged us to her home to St George. She suggested we go to see the cactus garden, and I told her I would like to eat. 

Day 2
On day 2, I learned about the many climates of the West and especially the desert. It was cold when we got up, and then it was instantly hot. And it was so. Hot. I haven't really remembered feeling hot since moving to Chicago but a handful of times, so it was pretty rough. I tried to be a good sport but my body just kept shutting off instead and I'd go to sleep. Luckily, Joy was awake and cool enough to play with their granddaughter Natalie who ran around Pioneer Park showing us all her favorite holes in the red rock formations. They were pretty awesome. And she was pretty adorable. 
Cute Natalie
Joy and I tried out all the rocks.
Then we all went on to Zion National Park -- adventurers + Dave and Natalie. I fell asleep some more. We stopped to see ostriches on the way because I guess that's something you can do in Utah, raise ostriches just because they're ostriches. One came to say hi to us. 

At Zion National Park, we spent the first hour trying to find each other because we'd driven to different parking lots. This taught me that mind speak is not possible even if you've been married for 40 years. 

We had lunch and then got ready to take the shuttle up to the hiking areas. When I learned that our shuttle stop was 40 minutes away, I laid back to conserve myself and not have a fit from overheating. So my mom yelled at me all the way up the mountain to wake up because I was missing the nature with my eyes closed. Luckily Kaye was there to discipline her. 

At the top, there was a nice stop by the river to enjoy shade and hang out. Then I felt more human. I laid on a rock to look up at the cliffs above, and then Fei's face hovered over my pleasant view. 

"What are you doing?! Are you okay!"
"I'm being peaceful!!"
Kaye then shooed her away. 

Kaye, Joy, and I went on a short hike to see the start of the Narrows which is a popular hike. We got to the end and took some photos for mom, and then we stopped and laid on a rock to soak up the scenery. I fell asleep. Twice. 

From Zion, Kaye had picked another hike at Checkerboard Mesa for us explore but recognized we were too tired so we skipped it. It's too bad though, because it seemed like the cooler hike between that and the Narrows hike. But it was for the better to just drive, stop, and take photos for everyone. This is mom's favorite way to enjoy nature anyhow. 
I'm trying to smile.
Joy really enjoyed this stop.

We drove on through the tunnel that connects Zion with the other side (don't know which exactly) and onto Kanab. In Kanab, population of Best Friends society and Grand Canyon tourists, we visited both grocery stores to see the sights. The visits were fruitful though because we continued to congratulate ourselves on how we were feeding 4 people for 3 meals for only $53 for the rest of the trip. 

Afterwards, we tried to go see stars on a secluded hill but it was too cloudy. But the clouds wee really beautiful glowing in the moonlight and we enjoyed those too -- in silence, which we had to keep reminding Fei was one of the instructions. 

Day 3
On the last full day, we walked across the parking lot to the church and attended sacrament meeting. It was at this time that I also discovered that I did not, in fact, pack a skirt. They let me in anyway. 

Then it was onto the Grand Canyon. The first stop was Jacob's Lake with a cute gift shop and bakery.  When Kaye told us about Jacob's Lake the night before, she told us there was a nice bakery at this stop that made a lot of homemade yummies. "Ooh!" was our collective response. There was no response when she followed with "North Rim Grand Canyon."  
Here's the bread, mom!

But we did actually ooh and aah when we got to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was spectacular! The Grand Canyon lodge provides a wonderful nature viewing room with rows of couches that just look out into the canyon. This was mom's perfect way to enjoy nature, I thought. 
Windows to nature...

We walked out to the easy lookout point and enjoyed the views of the canyon on both sides which were both different and beautiful. I think the Grand Canyon was my favorite. It was both grand and canyon. 

We felt energized from the grandeur of the canyon and told Kaye we wanted her to keep driving so we could see all the lookout points. So we went. "Where's the bread?!" my mom kept asking as we looked at the map of the Grand Canyon, not realizing Jacob's Lake was the bakery Kaye mentioned and still wondering when we would get to eat bread. 

We stopped at all the pull out areas on the way to Cape Royal at the end of the winding road. Our favorites were Vista Encantada, Woolhalla, and an unofficial stop close to Cape Royal (it was too late to go on the hike by the time we got there). Roosevelt Point was underwhelming in comparison. 
Vantage point from Cape Royal
Finally back to St. George to Kaye's home. We arrived around 9 pm, and then mom invited an old friend she'd rediscovered through another friend who now lives close to Kaye to come over. We visited for a while and glossed over what had happened to our families respectively over the last 29 years. 

They finally left and I melted down and went to sleep. 

Day 4
Joy and I chose flights out of Vegas since Kaye said a 2 hour drive is short for her and it made for better flight itineraries. We loaded out early and drove to Vegas. Don't worry, we stopped to take a photo at the St. George post office before we left for Vegas. 

We got to Vegas early so we stopped by the Bellagio to pee. Earlier in the car, Fei said she wanted to see the chocolate shop in the Bellagio but Kaye told her the Ethel M's chocolate was better so they didn't need to. As soon as we peed, Fei started mumbling in Chinese that she wanted to see the chocolate so she broke off to go ask the concierge where the chocolate shop is. She did this while Kaye was orating about the different displays the Bellagio sets up in the garden, and then when she turned around and saw Fei doing her own thing, she went and grabbed her over to listen about the garden. Fei said, "Garden?" And then we were allowed to visit the chocolate. Now the two 65-year old are on the loose tearing Vegas apart I'm sure (aka eating all the chocolate samples).

So ends the epic adventures across the Wild West. Or perhaps more aptly named, Mobile Nature Picnic with Fei and Kaye.