Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Angry Christmas Wish - A Work of Fiction

Disclaimer: This is a total work of fiction. I was joking about being cranky on Christmas, and a friend joked that a story called "The Angry Christmas B****" would be funny. So, I started writing. My teenagers are good kids. My father-in-law was, and my mother-in-law is, lovely. And in my marriage, I'm definitely the lazy oaf.

New Mary shoved an elbow into her snoring husband’s ribs.
“Roll over!” She snarled. It was already late on Christmas morning. There was no way presents would be unwrapped and dinner on the table by 4. She sighed and rolled out of bed.
“Let’s go. Got stuff to do. Get! Up!” She pulled his covers off. He grunted and staggered into the kitchen after her.
“You do the coffee, I’ll do the bird.”
Her husband heaved a sigh New Mary pretended not to hear and shot her a look she didn’t see.
Once they each had a cup of coffee with milk - they were out of creamer - they went to wake Tracy and Andrew. The kids used to be the ones to wake them up, but that was before they were teenagers. They looked at the pile of presents wrapped in snowman-covered paper under a dehydrated tree with their typical lack of interest.
“No stockings?” Andrew looked around.
“Stockings ended when your father slaughtered Santa Clause.” New Mary sipped her coffee and picked grounds out of her teeth.
“I didn’t slaughter Santa. The kids asked. I told them the truth.” Her husband rolled his eyes.
“Well, whatever you want to call it, Santa is officially dead and in his grave. You want candy? You have allowance. The store’s down the street.”

New Mary selected yoga pants that failed to look like anything else, despite the advertising, and a baggy red sweatshirt. She pulled her lank, dirty hair back into a ponytail.

The doorbell’s ring found her kicking back in her favorite recliner, sipping a Coors Lite from the can as the dog barked his head off.
“You gonna get that? It’s your parents.” 
Her husband gave another loud sigh and got up to answer the door.
New Mary nodded at each visitor in turn, raising her can in greeting. Her husband’s parents exchanged a look New Mary didn’t bother to try and interpret.
“That bird smells delicious!” Her mother-in-law exclaimed.
“Yup. Should be ready in about an hour and a half.” New Mary crushed the empty can and tossed it into the bin in the corner. “I’m gettin’ another. Anybody need anything? Good.” She disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a bag of potato chips, a tin of bean dip, and another can of beer. New Mary tore open the bag and thrust it at her father-in-law, popped open the dip, handed it to her mother-in-law, and tossed the lid. New Mary’s in-laws shared another look as New Mary plopped down in her chair.
“So! Did you get more of those cute Christmas plates like you had last year?” New Mary’s mother-in-law was making a valiant effort to be cheerful.
“Naw. We had some plates left over from this summer. Didn’t see a need to get more just for this one day.”
“Oh! A patriotic Christmas.” Her father-in-law chuckled at the flag-decked plate in his hand.
“Ah. Yes.” Her mother-in-law smiled tightly, red lips glistening.

New Mary let the guests serve themselves in the kitchen. The teenagers sat, staring at their phones, while New Mary’s in-laws made the same bland comments they always did. At least they weren’t making the back-handed compliments and routine digs they had been making for the last 20 years.

New Mary got up to clear the paper plates, plasticware, and uneaten side dishes away.
She’s changed,” Her mother-in-law hissed.
Are you two… okay?” Her father-in-law whispered.
I dunno. One day I woke up, and it was like she had gotten fatter, uglier, and meaner overnight…” That was her husband’s voice, whispering back.
The teenagers had already disappeared into their rooms. New Mary cracked another beer and flopped into her recliner, avoiding the looks from her husband and his parents. They’d be gone soon. Hardly a dish needed washing. She sighed and smiled in contentment.

One Year Earlier…

The dream had been perfect. Her dress had swished against long, toned legs, pedicured Christmas Red toenails peeking out of glittering sandals as she placed a perfect, golden goose on a table set with gold-trimmed china, crystal stemware, and real silver silverware. The man at the head of the table was a smiling Don Draper look-alike. Her children looked like tow-headed angels, the girl in ringlets, the boy’s nose still turned up a bit, like it was when he was a baby. They all smiled, hands and napkins in laps. Her in-laws were there, too, smiling in festive attire.

Mary stretched, inadvertently kicking a cat who responded with a hiss. She was awake before her alarm went off. Her husband snored loudly, farted, and turned over in his sleep. She sighed and slid out of bed, threw on her robe, and padded down the hall to make coffee, swearing as she tripped over the gym shoes outside Andrew’s room. She dumped the burned dregs out and started a new pot. It was gurgling as she did a sink full of dishes. The turkey was ready to go, so she opened the oven and realized the leftover fries were still in there from two nights ago. Her husband had volunteered to do the clean-up that night, but he must have missed those. She pulled the fries out, dumped them in the sink, and put the turkey in the oven. She could enjoy some coffee and a pop-tart before everyone else woke up to open the silver-and-blue-wrapped presents under the tree. Except the ancient pot’s filter had clogged, and a mess of coffee grounds and water were spilling down onto the floor.

The doorbell rang as Mary stepped out of the shower. Her in-laws were early.
“Can somebody get the door?” She yelled to the rest of the house, over the sound of the dog barking his head off.
The dog continued to bark while she towelled her hair dry. She heard the door open as she pulled on the maroon velvet pants she wore at holiday events and a loose-fitting top in black with silver trim. Mary grimaced in the mirror, touched a mascara wand to her eyelashes, and put on her favorite lip gloss.
She greeted her in-laws, giving her father-in-law a quick hug and her mother-in-law one of the awkward handshake/hug things they always did. Almost two decades, and she still didn’t know what she was supposed to do. Her father-in-law returned to his seat in her recliner, beside her husband in his recliner, opposite the fireplace. The flames were just starting to lick up the wrapper of the Qwik-Log.
“Babe, when you bring out the ‘hors d'oeuvres,’ could you bring out the bourbon, too?” Her husband smirked and emphasized the French phrase as he rolled his eyes at his father.
Mary disappeared into the kitchen just as the microwave dinged. The pizza rolls were done. She dumped them onto a plate, pulled the veggie tray out of the fridge, and grabbed the open bottle of Wild Turkey from the counter.
Tracy and Andrew materialized when she set the snacks on the coffee table. Mary corralled them.
“Listen,” she hissed, “you will not be on your phones. You will mind your language. You both know how your grandmother feels about strong language. And bickering. If you serve yourself something, you had better eat it all.” She gave Andrew’s plate a meaningful look. 
“We know, Mom. Is that all?” Tracy caught herself before her eyes rolled.
“It. Is. Christmas. Act like it!” Mary cajoled them, before returning to the kitchen.

“Oh! Paper plates for Christmas dinner!” Her mother-in-law smiled and raised rainbow-shaped eyebrows. “But these are the fancy ones! Cute little Christmas trees. Adorable.”

“This shi- crappy fork broke a tine. But it’s fine. Three tines is fine. I don’t need a new fork, Mom. Jeeze.” Tracy sighed, rolled her eyes, and accepted the replacement fork.

Andrew spent the evening smiling at the phone in his lap when he thought no one was watching and dumped his half-full paper plate into the trash.

The few dishes done, teenagers having vanished when the guests did, and her husband snoozing in bed with the game still on the bedroom television, Mary sat down in her recliner with a glass of wine and her laptop.
The program was simple: A lengthy questionnaire. A credit check. Mail in a DNA sample from the kit at the pharmacy. Show up at the airport when you get confirmation. For a one-time fee, you’re set up in a community of like-minded people, according to your questionnaire responses. And you get the assurance that your loved ones are taken care of in a suitable manner.

A week later, she boarded a charter jet. A smiling attendant poured her a complimentary glass of pinot grigio. She smiled and reclined her seat.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Trip Report: Joe's Ride - Olney, MD

Bottom Line

Fun, inexpensive party ride. Not a race - all riders expected to start together. I'll add this to my list of annual rides - it's a great way to start the season - but there are some things I hope will change.

The Five Ws

  • Joe Sanford died of brain cancer at 10 years old. 
  • Rides (45K, 30K, 10K) and a stride (5K). The 45K and 30K were $25, the 10K ride and 5K walk were $10, and there was a free kids' bike rodeo.
  • 2018 date was April 28 (reportedly earlier than in previous years). 
  • Start and End at Oakdale Emory Church - 3425 Emory Church Rd, Olney, MD.
  • The event is in memory of and benefits children in the Olney community who have died. Proceeds go to the Joseph Patrick Sanford Foundation.
  • Here's a link

What to Expect

The longer rides (30K and 45K) started at 0700. Seemed like fewer than 50 riders, maybe 35 or so. The scene is a party scene - there was a DJ, a couple of vendor booths, and a light breakfast. Check-in was super-smooth. I gave my name and they handed me my swag (a t-shirt, a tote bag, and a water bottle among other things), though the organizers had encouraged riders to have registration info - a QR code - ready.

We all set out after a brief prayer. The majority of the route in the beginning was roads that had been closed for the ride. After the 30K riders split off, roads were mostly lightly trafficked. The route was very well marked with the kind of signs you stick in the ground.

There were a LOT of farms, some woods, and some residential areas on the route. One house early on the route had people on the porch cheering us on. It was rolling hills throughout, with beautiful scenery. The day was really foggy, but that added to the beauty. There was one support stop, where the 30K and 45K diverged. Most of the roads were a little chewed up and in need of a fresh coat of asphalt, but that's to be expected this early in the season and on a rural route.

I got to see a beautiful woodpecker, wings out-stretched, fly in front of me. He was big - I had never seen one that close. The colors were unreal, like God went a little overboard with the Instagram filters. I wish I had a picture to share. Warning, though, farms in spring smell like, well, about like you'd expect. If you can abide the occasional smell of a freshly-fertilized farm, maybe stick to the trails around DC?

After the ride (it took me about 2 hours do do the 28 mile/45K) it was a party scene. Line dancing, talking, eating. I kind of wanted to do the Wiggle and the Macarena, but that part wrapped up by the time I got my bike shoes off and my slides on.

It seems like this is really a community event. I saw a lot of riders riding back home after their ride, and there was a lot of surprise when I said I was from Odenton, about a 40-minute drive away. One person said, "Oh, I've heard of Odenton..." Sometimes, I felt a little out of place - not from there, don't have a kid with cancer, didn't suffer the loss of a child, don't know Joe Sanford. I wanted to ask, "Am I the only one here who's just here for the ride?" but it seemed a callous thing to say.

Some Drawbacks

From most significant to least significant:

No cue sheet. Organizers assured me that I wouldn't get lost, as the route was well marked (it was, mostly) and that others on the ride would help me find my way, if I got lost (so, a group of four of us all ended up lost together, but not badly. There was either a sign missing, or a confusing sign, or one we all missed near the end of the ride. We ended up biking along a busy highway for a short distance, and then turning left off of said busy highway. It was dangerous and scary, but we all made it).

There was SAG, but no one gave out the SAG number. "If you need SAG, just wait, the car will be driving around on the route."

Balloon release. I know - this isn't really ride related. I'd love to see the organizers ditch the balloon release. Cuz, you know, wrecking the environment in loving memory of those who aren't around to see it wrecked... not cool. Plant a tree or release butterflies or something. Grief is real, losing a child is tragic, but there are better ways to honor that memory.

Registration. Registration wasn't through Active.com, but through SignMeUp. The technical process - navigating SignMeUp and PayPal and such - was kind of a pain. The other option was a snail-mailed registration sheet and a check.

No Gatorade or EnerGels - okay, this isn't even really a draw-back; I just thought I should warn you. There were delicious bagels and coffee at the start, and, c'mon, 28 miles. Do you really need Gatorade or EnerGels for 28 miles? No. Just fill the two water bottles you have on your bike, you'll be fine.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

NICA and Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League Information Night

I attended the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) information night on 20 January 2018 at Crofton Bike Doctor. Here are my notes.

NICA and its Maryland League

NICA focuses on making mountain biking fun for children in grades 6-12. Their values emphasize inclusiveness and positive support for physical, mental, and emotional health. Their program places a high value on safety and risk management.

NICA is a huge organization, and it is growing, as is the sport of mountain biking. They have 22 leagues across 21 states. 10,826 student athletes, and 4,389 volunteers. Leagues typically double in size between the first and second years.

The league being launched in Maryland, the Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League, will need adult volunteers as well as student athletes. A leadership commission has already been established, and includes cycling leaders from around the state. There is also an aggressive fundraising campaign. While most of the revenue will come from race registration, race registration will com after the need for funds to start. The Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League is a brand new 501(C), so donations are tax-deductible.

Practices and Competitions

Each student athlete who wants to compete can. There is no "bench," no try-outs, no cuts. All are welcome. Each competitor who finishes the course earns points for their team, even the slowest competitor.

Competitions are on single-track courses. Passing is done safely, and the focus on risk management means there are no overly technical courses - no biking along cliffs, no jumps, no drop-offs. The goal is to make competing fun for everyone, even brand-new cyclists. The challenge is often in how fast an athlete can complete the course.

Practice venues are determined by a team's coach or coaches. Not every practice will be a ride through the woods. There are lots of skills that can be honed in a field. Requirements focus on inclusiveness. There is no minimum number of practices per week and no maximum, but coaches are trained in risk management and are therefore wary of over-working student athletes.

Competitions are huge events. Often, 1,000 people arrive to compete, volunteer, or observe. Some competitions have to be in locations that not only offer a course without too many technical challenges, but that also have parking for hundreds of vehicles and nearby camping available. Competitions aim to be weekend-long events, with set-up on Friday night, non-competitive rides and further preparation on Saturday, and competitive events on Sunday.

All events are optional. Being on a team does not mean you have to go to every competition or every practice. Going to a competition does not mean you have to arrive on Friday night - if you can only make the competition on Sunday, you would be welcome.

Venues being examined for the 2018 season in Maryland are Fair Hill, Rosaryville State Park, Schaeffer Farm and Button Farm, and Brunswick. Dates of competitions will be finalized by the end of February.

Volunteering

There is a lot of support through NICA for adults who would like to help out with a team or with the league. While there are requirements for coaches, there is an opportunity for those who would like to try it out once without going through the qualification process. There are also opportunities to volunteer that do not involve getting on a bike. There is a leadership summit which will provide everything needed to become a coach. The cost of the summit is $90.

Coaching will require, among other things, a background check, a brief course in risk management (provided by NICA), and concussion training. There are levels of coaching, but for the first year, the teams can only be level one teams, so the coaches need only be level one coaches.

Teams

Teams are encouraged to be associated with a school, but there are also composite teams that include student athletes based on their geographic location or on other bases.

The required ratio of students to qualified coaches is 6:1.

Team dues are optional and there are very soft rules on how a team can function. The one hard and fast rule is that teams must have a team uniform. But even this is flexible - the uniform can be as simple as matching tee-shirts. NICA is negotiating with Hill Killer Apparel for helping teams design and produce uniforms.

Key Dates


  • March 17-18: Leaders' Summit
  • April 1: Registration and beginning of pre-season - teams meet informally
  • July 1: In-Season - teams meet regularly for practice and conditioning
  • September-October: Race Season - there will be 4 races in Maryland during the 2018 season. Typically there are 4-6 races in a season.

More Information

Visit www.marylandmtb.org to sign up for the Single Track Times.
Follow Maryland Mountain Bike on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @marylandmtb

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Changing My Definition of Femininity - An Ode to My Bike

When I first met her, I thought she was beautiful. I didn't know what kind of bicyclist I would be. Roads? Trails? Three miles a week, or more than that? I didn't know. But this bike... She was purple, with a step-though frame, and flowery vines painted on. Anyone who saw this bike would know it was a woman's bike, no question.

Few things give me as much joy as dismounting. I slow way down, pull one leg through the frame to sit side-saddle, then hop off and start walking. I imagine that I'm a slip of a girl - light and lithe, like a fairy princess - gently tripping along the ground. I always stick the landing, but... Well, at 5'9" and almost 200 lbs, I am nothing like a fairy princess.

I started taking longer and longer rides, working from "Whew! Three whole miles!!" to a 7-mile commute, then a 10-mile weekend ride, then 20 miles, then 30, and then I did a metric century (100km, or 62 miles). I started biking to work, and got panniers to put on her rack so I could carry my work clothes and towel - yes, my commute is far enough that I have to shower when I get there.
Gradually, I came to realize this was the wrong bike for most of what I do. She's heavy and bulky. And while her geometry allowed me to bike in a dress and maintain some modesty, it's not even slightly aerodynamic. I knew I needed a road bike - something faster, with more room at the top of the gears. But I loved my step-through frame. No road bike would have that, and I was bummed that I'd have to give it up.

My marvelous local bike store (Crofton Bike Doctor) set me up with a bike someone had traded in - a Specialized Ruby. A carbon frame with a nearly horizontal crossbar, pedals you have to clip into, and drop-down handlebars like a ram's horns. She's not a very girly color. But she is slender, and light, and nimble. And she's fast and strong. This bike wants to go uphill. She wants to beat the motorized vehicles on the downhill... and she gets much closer than my hybrid ever did.

With my hot pink helmet, my hot pink-trimmed biking shoes, and all the flowery, girly-colored spandex I can find, I think we're still feminine enough.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why I'm Not Excited About a Female Doctor Who

I wasn't shocked when I got the news that the next Doctor would be a woman, Broadchurch's Jodie Whittaker. People have been calling for it ever since River Song kicked so much butt, and there were announcements that no, the next Doctor would not be a female. So, having convinced eager fans it wasn't to be, the time was ripe. I wasn't shocked, but I was pleased. It really is about time.

You know what else didn't shock me? All the backlash.

So, here's why I'm not excited about a female Doctor Who:

  1. Because I'm a bicyclist, and I know that the world is full of bastards who oppose progress. Bike lanes have been proven, like this one in Atlanta, to increase safety on the roads, but sometimes the bastards complain loud enough, and progress is undone, like in Baltimore.
  2. Because even the people who claim they aren't bastards sometimes end up being bastards. We were very ready for a female President of the United States. Just not that one, said the bastards.* And in the end, it didn't happen. As if, as the linked article points out, we're holding out for the perfect woman president, perfect woman CEO, perfect woman actor, etc.
  3. Because the world is not kind to women. The internet is Bastards on the internet are often openly hostile to women. No, really, it's not like that for men. It's just because they're women.
  4. Because even Peter Capaldi drew a lot of criticism from DW fans, enjoyed a lukewarm reception, and look how long he lasted. Spoiler alert: it's three seasons. I'm not saying that the fans who didn't like him got him fired. Surely there are other reasons, right? I'm just saying, they didn't like him and he didn't last long.

How long could she last? Even if the number of fans who oppose her is small, even if she is the perfect woman actor, even if - relatively speaking - she isn't opposed much more than any man would be? Those hopes for little opposition aren't looking good, by the way. And she hasn't even gotten on the set, yet.

Don't get me wrong: The world needs her. Women need her. I need her. I hope like hell she outlasts the bastards.

TL;DR - the world is full of joy-stealing bastards who win all too often, and I'm old and jaded. I love that a talented female actress has been chosen for the part. It is about damn time. I just can't let my hopes get too high, yet. But I'll be the first to throw a fancy, themed party when she's three seasons and one episode in.

* Before you freak out, I'm not saying people who didn't vote for Hillary are bastards. I'm saying that when you say, "I want a woman _____, just not this woman, let's get another guy this time, maybe we'll try this little experiment again in a few years" you're a lying bastard. If you want a woman doctor/lawyer/president/actor/CEO, you have to go ahead and hire one, or else admit you don't really want one in the first place.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Different When They're Yours

"How was your day?" I asked my 14-year-old, as I settled into my chair.
"Meh." She shrugged and I sighed. Right. Open-ended questions.
"How was your commute?" We both ride our bikes to get where we're going. I do so when the weather's nice and it's not too much of an inconvenience. She does it every day, unless we offer her a ride in the car. That doesn't happen often. For her, biking means freedom and speed.
"Oh, my God! I was coming up to this crosswalk, so I slowed down, and this guy in his car on his phone almost..." I had opened the floodgate.

I pasted what I hoped was a mildly concerned look on my face as I listened to her talk about her near-miss. Some one wasn't paying attention and got way too close, drawing the ire of the crossing-guards and a lecture. I reviewed traffic patterns with her - people biking are safest when they behave in traffic like people driving, but that can be difficult to do if you've never driven. She was where she should have been, doing what she should have been doing. It was like any other near-miss, only it wasn't, because it was my daughter.

I knew a few things immediately. 1) No, I couldn't go kill someone. 2) Of course she would ride tomorrow (I reminded myself that this was a good thing). 3) We couldn't tell my husband.

When I started biking more, I would come home after a ride, still hopped-up on adrenaline. My husband would ask how my ride was, and I would recount all the details of whatever incident could have put me in the hospital, but didn't.

I should tell you, my husband is an avid runner. He's had his own near-misses. He's supportive of my biking to a fault; he knows how important his running is to him. He also knows about drivers and attention and infrastructure for anything other than cars.

I would watch his face as I vented my anger at the person driving. The carefully controlled, mildly concerned expression, the shrug, and the "Yeah - drivers. You'll have that" comment. I could tell, though, that he didn't like it. I had put him in a tough spot. He couldn't tell me not to ride; he knew riding on the sidewalk wasn't an option for me (it's not legal here and is rarely a safer, much less a more enjoyable option); and yet...

Eventually I stopped sharing my stories. If pressed, I'd say something like, "I just need to review some footage from my ride." I ride with a Fly6 - it captures video of things going on behind you while also acting as one of the best tail-lights I've ever seen. Sometimes, the close-call isn't as bad on video as it was when you were riding. Or that's what you can tell yourself.

How can you protect the people you love and allow them their freedom? Where's the balance point?

When my daughter turned 15, she started a new job about three miles away. She could ride her bike, though, unlike her route to school, her route to work would take her along some of the busier streets. I upgraded her lights. We talked about the importance of paying attention and route options.

Her dad said we'd drive her home at the end of her day. I insisted her lights were good enough. He insisted we'd pick her up. As the days got longer, I insisted that it wouldn't even be dark when her shift ended. He insisted we'd give her a ride.

Her birthday isn't until the winter. But maybe, for my birthday, I can get her her own Fly6. Maybe the newer, more expensive, front-facing Fly12 to go with it.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Meaning of Travel

When I think about the Muslim ban, I think about the vacation we almost didn't take in 2007 or 2008.

We didn't have much money, but I was able to put four round-trip tickets onto a credit card for us to go visit my parents on the West Coast. I had bought the tickets using one of those bargain sites and when we got to the airport, the confirmation number I had wouldn't pull up any flight information. I found out from the attendant behind the counter that my flight was actually not leaving from Charlotte, but from a smaller airport about an hour and a half's drive away. Our plane was to leave in an hour and a half. We weren't going to make it.

With no money to buy new tickets and no refund available, I knew I was defeated. I would have to explain to my kids that our week-long vacation wouldn't happen. That despite weeks of careful planning, they wouldn't see their grandparents for another year or more. That all my careful shopping still meant $1,650 went down the drain, and there were sooo many places it could have gone. That I wouldn't see my mother.

We would have to just go back home. What would we do for that week? How could I entertain us with almost no money? What hope did I have of rescuing that vacation without feeling the constant pain of missing my parents? What would I tell them?

I did the only thing I could: I started weeping. Nasty-crying in the middle of the arrivals gate. My kids were embarrassed and confused. My husband was embarrassed and powerless. The attendants wouldn't make eye-contact. It was awful.

My story has a happy ending. After a few minutes of sobbing, an attendant hurried over to us. Didn't I get the phone call? They had left messages on our home phone. We had been driving. The flight that was supposed to leave from the smaller airport was cancelled. We would have to re-book at no additional charge. They had a flight that would leave in two hours. There were seats available for us.

So, imagine that it hadn't been a year or two, but several. A decade. Two decades. Imagine that it wasn't a 6-hour flight, but a 12-hour flight. Imagine that it wasn't a careless oversight on the part of the traveler, but a revoked promise on the part of the government. Imagine getting all the way there, and being told you'd have to start over in a few months. And imagine that "just going back home" wasn't an option.

I can't. I can't imagine that.

That's why we need to work to ensure those who were told they could get here can do so. I hope they get their happily ever after, too.