My Very First Century Ride


May 8, 2012.  My first Century.  Some days are more special than others.  Some days are game-changers.  Some days leave you more alive, more exuberant, and more zesty than others.  These days may be filled with important people in our lives, challenges met, time spent in nature, moments of meditation, or reflections on life.  For me, May 8th was filled with all of this.  And more.  It’s almost hard to believe that the day was only 24 hours long.  Surely time stood still for awhile at some point that day.

I know.  I’m getting a little too philosophical for what boils down to just a bike ride.  Even a long bike ride shouldn’t warrant such pomp and circumstance.  But like I said, some days are just more special than others.  And some bike rides are more important than others.  You know I’m a sucker for “firsts”.  I memorialize “firsts” and “lasts” like a parent who thinks they have the first child who ever learned to crawl.  I can’t help it.  When I think to myself, “This is the last time I am changing a diaper.” or “This is the first time our whole family is on our new boat,” my mind takes a snapshot of life at that particular moment.  I stick it in my brain’s vault so I can access it at any time.  It’s lovely to remember all the firsts and lasts over the years and how those moments were often pivotal events in my life.  The “mind picture” I have of Chris, Bryson, Reese, and I on the eve of Porter’s birth is so special to me (here is the actual picture):

It was the moment right before our family was complete.  We did not yet know how perfectly wonderful life would be with Porter.  We guessed, but, of course, he turned out to be more of a joy than could ever be imagined.  But here I am, digressing.  Don’t worry, I’m getting to my ride and the 15 pictures that I just have to include… (no wonder the ride took so long.  i had to keep stopping to take pictures!)  The point is, this “first” century was a BFD for me and it changed me in ways that are way more important than being able to say, “I rode 100 miles.”

When I started riding a few years ago, I knew right away that I wasn’t interested in racing, or even going particularly fast.  But I do have a streak of an endurance athlete in me, so I suspected, even at the beginning, that I would someday be tempted to try to ride a “Century”, which is a 100 mile ride.  It seems that once you start road cycling, you either aim at completing your first triathlon or your first century.  If you’ve ever seen me swim or run, you know why I chose the latter.  I tried all last year to get in shape for a century, but it just didn’t happen.

This year, I was determined.  I knew we were leaving for our sailing trip and wouldn’t be riding for a year.  The winter was so mild that I trained up until November and then started up again in January.  I’ve logged 563 miles and 25,000 feet of climbing since January 1st this year, which is great for me.  I had a few long rides that were tough but great learning experiences.  A 63 mile ride in Tarrytown and a 72 mile ride up near Bear Mountain were especially great rides that taught me a lot about my specific needs, including staying cool and finding the right balance of nutrition for my easily overheated and slightly hypoglycemic system.

The day finally came and I was completely pumped with just a little bit of nervous energy.   I started packing my stuff a day before I would normally pack for all five of us to go to Florida for a week.  I had clothes, extra clothes, alternate clothes, snacks, Hammer products (more on that later), water bottles, my bike computer, the route printed out in a tiny font so it fit on two sides of one piece of paper, extra tire tubes in case of a flat, tools, sunblock, chapstick, tissues, money, credit cards, my Road ID (a bracelet with my emergency contact information on it), and more.

My friend Larry, who agreed to chaperone my ride, chose a route down in Princeton, NJ because it is flat (read: easy).  The route is done every year during an organized event, so there are arrows painted on the road at each turn point.  This would prove to be especially helpful throughout the day.  My goal was to ride 100 miles at an average moving speed of 14.5 mph.  I didn’t care how long the rests were or how many I needed to take.  My main goal was to finish feeling happy and strong, not feeling like I barely survived.

We left Ho-Ho-Kus at 5:30am.  I consider this time to be “The Middle of the Night”, so add that on top of the fact that I was nervous and excited and you might say I wasn’t the most charismatic person to drive with.  Larry was a good sport and humored my panic attacks about forgetting something and my angst at whether or not to bring an extra long-sleeved shirt.  (BTW, in case you were slightly impressed at my mileage this year, Larry rode 200 miles.  Um, yesterday.)

We parked at a community college and started off.  I was not 100% sure that I would be able to finish, but I was 100% sure that I would give it my best shot.  The beginning of the ride was typical of riding with another person.  Larry and I chatted, noticed the scenery, and reviewed our plans for eating, resting, and refilling water bottles.  Then I remembered something I read online somewhere.  That event organizers are rarely able to map out a “Century” route that is “exactly” 100 miles.  I turned to Larry and stated quite clearly, if not adamantly, “I came to ride 100 miles and that is what I am doing.  I am GETTING.  OFF.  MY.  BIKE. at 100 miles.  You’re just going to have to go get the car and come get me if the route is longer than that.”  So yes.  I am a road cycling diva and a complete baby.  But I bet you’re wondering if I held him to it. (You’ve got a long ways to go before you find out, my friend, because I could ride another 100 miles before you finish reading this. But you should know that he did agree to come get me in the car if I really wanted him to.)

After 10 miles, I couldn’t continue to pretend that the winds were pretty strong and that we were riding straight into them.  I used this as an opportunity to allow my confidence to flag, and our conversation turned more serious.  I whined a little about not being able to ride 100 miles straight into the wind.  Larry started with a pep talk, promising that the winds wouldn’t be in our faces the whole time, but I wasn’t interested in logic.  I needed to dig deep and remind myself that I was ready for this ride.  No amount of pleasant chitchat, cute horse farms and majestic fields of New Jersey grain could distract me from the challenge ahead.  I got my head in the game and got a bit serious for awhile.

The plan was to stop at 15, 30, 45, and 60 miles.  After that, I wanted to stop every 10 miles to make sure I got enough time to stretch and alleviate the lack of circulation in the bike shorts area.  When we stopped to fill our water bottles the first few times, I was feeling strong, but hot.  It wasn’t a terribly hot day, but I tend to get overheated easily.  It helped to pour water on my wrists and neck at the breaks.

Nutritionally,  I was doing everything right.  Larry laughed at me all day, because I was originally skeptical of the Hammer brand of endurance fuels and supplements that he uses (www.hammernutrition.com).  But I had been experimenting with them for about a month and was finding that they made a difference.  Every pocket and pouch of my jersey was loaded up with energy bars, gels, electrolyte tablets, and my favorite: Perpetuem solids, which are like giant, chalky Tic Tacs that slowly dissolve in your mouth while simultaneously occupying your mind and giving you 50 calories of carbs, vitamins and minerals.  Larry and I had 6 water bottles between us and one of them was just filled with Perpetuem powder, so that we could keep making new bottles of the mixture as we refilled with water throughout the day.  The drink it makes is a high calorie combination of carbohydrates and protein that is healthier than drinking something like Gatorade.  We joked that I was going to be their new spokesperson, except that their typical customer doesn’t consider 100 miles to be worthy of anything more than a light breakfast and a Snickers bar.  If you are looking for more of a laugh than I can provide, check out their “testimonials” section.  Athletes write in about how they “trained extensively for the 125km Canadian Death Race”, which only took “22 hours”.  Can you see me writing in and telling them about how I used every product they make to conquer the “Flattest Century in New Jersey”?  But seriously, it worked.  It was all I had all day except for 2 treats, which I’ll tell you about later.  Okay, enough about Hammer.  See why Larry was laughing at me all day?!  (My older friends will be reminded of when we were one of the first people to get Tivo and were talking it up to our friends like a couple of Amway salesmen.  But we were right, right?)

The first 40 miles went by without much hoopla.  The 40s were uneventful, although I panicked a little that we weren’t finding a single store to replenish our water.  Where were we?  How do you ride 10 miles and see NOTHING but horse farms?  We were getting to the bottom of the first page of directions, which was encouraging.  The winds had died down just a bit.  I spent a few miles riding by myself, emptying my mind and allowing my legs to just spin around and around.  I didn’t look around.  I looked at the pavement right in front of my wheel and experienced the peace of a “rolling meditation”.

Just before the halfway point, we found a supermarket in New Egypt.  It was so nice to walk around in the air conditioning and cool off.  I poured as much water on myself as I drank.  On the way out, I had a hankering for macadamia nuts, so we bought some as a treat.  It was so nice to eat real food.  The saltiness hit the spot.  On the way out, we had an older gentleman try to take our picture with my Droid.  Pretty funny:)

At the halfway point, I didn’t even want to stop to take a picture of my Garmin reading 50 miles (but I did, of course.)  I was feeling good, even though I was overheated, so it came as a surprise when the rest of the 50s were a total nightmare.  The next part of the route went right through the McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix.  We were on a road called Browns Mill-Cookstown Road for what felt like an eternity.  In fact, it was only about 5 miles, but it went through an area known as Hanover Furnace.  Seriously?  That’s what you name your town?  It was a straight road, cut through the trees, so the wind whipped through like a windtunnel.  I was pedaling at the same cadence as before, but my speed dropped from 14.5 miles per hour to 9 mph.  It was demoralizing and the barren, sandy landscape of the base was depressing me.  The energy of the area was not the kind of energy that is good for my soul.  I rode by myself so as not to spread my funk, and I was so glad when it was over.  Even now, 3 weeks later, I can close my eyes and feel the negative vibes of that stretch of road.  I will avoid that spot for the rest of my life if I can help it.  The only redeeming part was that I busted out the second treat of the day: Fig Newtons.  Which NEVER tasted so damn good.  Ever.

Once we left the base area, I bounced back.  We circled Mirror Lake in Whitesbog, which was very pretty.  At around 60 miles, Larry asked me how it felt to be doing my first century.  I immediately snapped back with something about counting chickens.  And then I went on to downplay what I was doing.  I pointed out, again, that it was the flattest 100 mile route in New Jersey.  I pointed out that during Ironman Triathlons, he does a century plus 12 miles on the same day that he runs a marathon and swims 2.4 miles.  So what was the big deal with doing a century anyway?  That I was taking a million breaks.  That I needed him to get me through it.  That really, anyone could do one.  And more.  He just looked at me, confused, and asked me why I was saying those things.  I realized that maybe not everyone finds a reason to downplay their accomplishments.  And so we had our second “serious conversation” of the day.  It was great to explore the emotions that come up while stressing your body physically.  There is an organic flow to the way the emotions follow the feelings in the body during exercise.  I think about how the same type of thing must happen with my friend, who practices an intense type of mixed martial arts, and athletes in every other sport for that matter, but especially endurance sports.  I started to think about how I might be able to change my internal dialogue so that I celebrated my greatness and congratulated myself on my accomplishments, big and small.

At around 70 miles, we stopped at a little bodega that had the cutest, crumbly yellow walls.  Waters all around with 2 scoops of Perpetuem for me, 3 scoops for Larry.  A quick bathroom break and we were back on the road.

Now here comes some fun.  80 miles.  Awesome, right?  Wrong.  I needed to stop and cool off.  I felt completely overheated.  My helmet was driving me crazy because it wasn’t allowing any heat to escape.  I felt strong and my muscles were fine, but I was so hot that I was getting a headache and once that happens, I’m done for the day.  Of course, now we couldn’t find anywhere to stop.  We were on a busy road with houses right next to each other.  We rode for a few miles and I finally insisted that we stop when we saw a small grassy area right on the edge of the road.  I was so out of it that I took off my helmet, laid right down on the ground, and started pouring my precious drinking water on myself.  I rested for about 15 minutes to allow my core temperature to go down.  Poor Larry.  When cyclists talk about Larry’s riding, the first thing they comment on is that he doesn’t wait for anyone.  He just rides without stopping, all day long.  Good thing I’m such a witty conversationalist, though not when I’m passed out on the ground with bugs crawling all over me looking like the garbage pick up.

The rest did wonders, because this picture of me at 80 miles is right before I got back on my bike.  I look a lot better than the last picture!  I was feeling much, much better and was ready to finish strong.  After a few hundred yards, we passed a house that had an old toilet bowl sitting at the street.  We had a chuckle about how many bathroom breaks I had to take from drinking so much and it lightened my mood even further.  I suggested that we go back and take a picture of the toilet for laughs.  I think my 180 degree mood change was freaking Larry out, because he just stared at me and said, “You want to go BACK?”

Come on. That is funny.

I thought about it for a second.  For the first time that day, I felt like I was just out riding my bike, like I did when I was 9 years old.  I wasn’t “Finishing My First Century” or “Being An Endurance Athlete”.  I wasn’t taking myself so seriously.  I wasn’t concerned with just getting to the finish line.  I was living in the moment and enjoying myself.  Yes.  I wanted to turn my bike around and move away from the finish line, so I could take a funny picture of a toilet bowl.  If I could only tell you about three moments from this day, this one would be one of them.  We had a hoot taking a picture of my umpteenth potty break (not really, I swear.)  When I picked up my bicycle and hopped back on, I looked at my bike computer and noted the mileage.  We were at 81 miles.  As I clipped my shoes into the pedals, I knew for the first time: “I am going to finish a Century.”  I was 19 miles from my goal and I knew I could do it.  That realization gave me even more energy and my legs went spinning away.

At 92 miles, a strange thing happened.  Larry was up ahead, so I was riding alone, silently.  All of a sudden, my legs slowed down.  They weren’t tired at all.  I just couldn’t get them to spin very fast.  Everything felt heavy.  I tried to figure out what was happening and panicked just a little bit. I wondered if I was going to bonk less than 8 miles from the finish (bonking is when you run out of energy.  completely.)  Thoughts about earlier in the day popped into my head.  I remembered how my internal dialogue sometimes criticizes, belittles, and chastises my thoughts and actions.  What set those patterns in place?  Could I change those thoughts and treat myself with the love, care, and compassion that I treat my children and others I love?  I realized that I could decide right then and there to leave that negative voice behind me.  I imagined that voice leaving my body as I slowly continued to move forward in space.  I imagined it dropping down onto the pavement, never to find me again.  In fact, I physically felt like negative energy was leaving my body out of the back of my head and my back.  (Stay with me here.)

What was left was my own true voice.  The innocent voice of a child who believes in herself and thinks she is great, just the way she is.  Nothing to prove.  I saw finishing a century as an amazing accomplishment.  One I could and should be proud of.  Something to remember.  But it wouldn’t change my sense of self-worth.  I’m an amazing person no matter how many miles I ride my bike, no matter how well I parent my children, no matter how nice my house looks, no matter how many friends I have, no matter how many hours I volunteer, no matter how beautiful or thin I am, no matter how productive I am.  I am amazing because I am a precious human being.  I am just as amazing as all of you and all of humanity.  If we can take away the internal voices that seem to get to decide what makes us “good enough”, we can see that we are all good enough.  Flaws and all.  Mistakes and all.  Mean, petty thoughts and all.

Suddenly, my legs were back.  I was at 94 miles and I felt fine again.  I had had an epiphany about life and it was remarkable.  A game-changer.  And now it was time to finish.  Because damn it, I wanted some ice cream.

I remembered how hot I was just as it started to drizzle.  It felt miraculous, like a cleansing of sorts.  An emotional christening or something, even though that sounds strange.  The rain continued for the rest of the ride and I was refreshed.

At 100 miles, we stopped to take a picture.  I’m such a dork.  You would think I just got the yellow jersey in the Tour de France the way I’m carrying on, holding up my bike.  Always with the pomp and circumstance.  I’m surprised I didn’t call a reporter to come write an article.  Oh wait, I’m kind of writing my own article, aren’t I?  See?

Larry inquired politely if he should swing back with the car to pick me up.  I laughed and agreed to continue on.  Luckily, the college was only a mile away, so my total mileage for the day was 101.  The most surprising thing was how great I felt at the finish.  I had lots of energy (Go Hammer!), my muscles felt great (even the next day!), and I was on an emotional high that lasted for days.

So what’s next?  Well, a one year sailboat trip.  So there will be a bit of a cycling hiatus.  (I’d tell you to breathe a sigh of relief, but you’ll still have to read about every leg of our trip on our website- www.conwaysailors.com)  And then?  A 400K (248.5 miles).  Wonder how long THAT blog post will be…

BTW, good luck to my friend Kate, who is doing a 2-day 150 mile ride to raise money for MS!

Lights. Camera. Action.


Such excitement we’ve had the week of May 4th.  In seven days, I:

1. Had my 40th birthday party

2. Had Porter’s 6th birthday party

3. Found out that a reporter is going to do a number of articles/television spots about our trip for the local newspapers and news shows!

4. Had a commercial shoot in our home

My 40th birthday party was great.  I pre-entered my 5th decade surrounded by a group of beautiful, supportive, and fun women.  And I had ice cream cake and dancing:)  Porter’s birthday was fun.  Bowling with 11 kids.  ‘Nuff said.  More to come later on the articles, we hope.

What was really cool that week was having a commercial shoot in our home.  Last year, I signed our house up with a Location Agency, which books homes for use in video and print work.  Our home was chosen for a commercial that will be shown on a national cable channel.  It is actually a longer-than-normal commercial, which is known as an interstitial.  See, I’m all down with the showbiz lingo now.  I even know what a mocktini shot is (I’ll tell you later.  Maybe.  I’ll have my people tell your people.)

The process was amazingly simple.  The agent called to see if we were available on the date of the shoot.  We were.  Then I sent some detailed photos of our kitchen and dining room, which fit the needs of the script.

A few days later, the key members of the production crew came to our house to “scout” the location.  They walked around, took pictures, acted out the lines, and talked about how to deal with lighting, where the actors would stand, and how they would deal with little dilemmas, like where the catering crew would set up if it rained.  You know, since we have a two-car garage that currently houses fenders, anchors, an outboard engine, and a 10 foot dinghy in addition to our 10 bicycles.

Then yesterday came.  Very early.  We opened the garage doors at 5:45am for the catering crew.  Three chefs, a generator, a large truck, several grills, and box after box of food, dishes, ice, and who knows what else.  Within 20 minutes, our garage was converted to a fully functioning buffet complete with an omlette station.  I requested a mushroom/spinach/tomato omlette while serving the kids breakfast (and packing their lunchboxes) from the huge display of yummy food laid out.  I could go on and on about the food, but suffice it to say that breakfast was followed by a mid-morning snack spread, followed by a huge lunch and afternoon snacks, such as homemade pizzas and empanadas.  I was a happy, happy girl and the kids went crazy with cookies and other goodies.

As the minutes ticked on, the rest of the crew arrived in trucks, zipcars from NYC, and car services.  There were 23 cars parked on our road ALL DAY.  It was a circus and our neighbors were patient and excited for us (sans one. but he’s always a PITA.)  Everywhere we turned, people were setting up lights, moving furniture, setting up tables for hair, makeup, and wardrobe, and redecorating our kitchen and dining room to look like it was in, well, a commercial.

I introduced myself to most of the people if it didn’t seem to distract them from what they were doing and they were ALL amazing.  So kind, considerate, and grateful to be in our home.  It was so lovely to meet all of them.  There is a fair amount of downtime in filming, depending on your job, so I got to have some lengthy conversations throughout the day with the crewmembers.  Each person I met was fascinating.  Of course, most of the conversations happened while I was loitering in the catering area, waiting for the next treat to be set out, so they could have been talking about what kinds of lightbulbs they use in the lights for all I know, and I still would have been happy. (Did I mention the commercial is for a very famous make of ice cream cakes?  And that they needed to have about 15 ice cream cakes here for the shoot.  And that we got to eat the ones they didn’t use???!!!!)

The shoot lasted until 5:50, when the mocktini occurred.  That is the last take of the day and is derived from the olden days, when they would start pouring martinis during the last take.  It took them about 1 1/2 hours to pack up and set our house back the way it was.  And when I tell you that every last item in our house was EXACTLY where it was in the morning, I am not kidding.  14 hours later and you would never have known that anyone was here.

The kids had a great time meeting the producers and the actors.  Reese loved watching the takes.  I liked hanging out with the producer and the people from the network, watching the action from the monitor in our living room.  I loved hearing their comments and suggestions as the filming took place.  The director would come in and out to talk to them and would make changes based on their feedback.  It was a great learning experience.  The only tough part for me was listening to the actors say the SAME EXACT LINES.  ALL DAY LONG.  By the end, I was thinking, “Oh come on.  Just change it up a little for this next take.  Say ‘great’ instead of ‘super’ or SOMETHING!!!”  Even their facial expressions were identical from take to take.  I don’t know how they do it.

I hope we will have some more work in the future.  I look forward to seeing the commercial in June.  I’ll let everyone know when I know the date and time, in case you are interested!

Absolute Yes/Absolute No


Some friends of mine and me are working this month to look at our calendars, our schedules, our daily routines.  We are committed to analyzing our priorities and making sure that everything to which we dedicate our precious time and energy is serving our highest good.  So we took the advice of Cheryl Richardson, motivational speaker and author of The Art of Extreme Self-Care, who suggests that we make an Absolute Yes list and an Absolute No list.  The idea is that we think about those things in our lives that we want and need in order to grow and be fulfilled.  And also to discern if there are activities in which we engage that are not serving us or are wasting our precious energy.  One friend pointed out that the use of the word “absolute” automatically creates a tough situation.  If we are dedicated to living with Equanimity, then we need to be more flexible than to say we will ABSOLUTELY do certain things and will ABSOLUTELY never do others.  So rather than set ourselves up for failure and disappointment, let’s make a list of those endeavors that make us happy, help us grow, and allow us to serve the world.  And we can make another list to help decide if there are activities we would like to minimize, as they do not allow us to be our best.

My Absolute (most of the time) Yes List

Show my children how much I love them

Show my husband how much I love, admire, and appreciate him.

Choose to spend time with friends over “getting things done”.

Express my positive feelings when I have them. (telling a friend I love her, telling a cashier that I appreciate the smile and good service she offered, thanking a stranger for holding a door, etc, etc.)

Express my other feelings when I have them, if appropriate. (telling a friend I’m angry or offended, etc.)

Practice yoga, which allows my physical body carry my soul with ease, flexibility, and gentleness.

Drink water

Sleep well

Find quiet moments in which to come back to my center, where I feel strong, peaceful, and open.

Only keep things in our home that are practical, beautiful, or sentimental.

Dream my own dreams and make them come true.

Utilize all the tools in my toolbox (including acupuncture, coaching, talking to friends, etc.) to support my growth and emotional and physical health.

Eat mindfully.

Ride my bike and play tennis for fun and fitness.

Practice piano. Take classes to get ready for sailing trip. Knit. Scrapbook. Sew. Read. Write. Create.

My Absolute (most of the time) No List

Be unkind to myself.  I want to speak to myself as kindly and lovingly as I speak to my children (when they get hurt, not when they forget to tuck their chair in for the 9,000th time in a row.)

Get caught up in OPD (other people’s drama).

Serve my body unhealthy foods and drinks.

Bring my cell phone upstairs (I want to go to sleep and get ready in the morning without the temptation to check email, play Words with Friends, or text people.)

Go to events that require idle, shallow chit-chat and gossip.  Just. Not. Interested.

Listen to gossip in any situation.

Take phone calls or read during meals.

Ignore my body when it’s screaming for me to rest, slowdown, or feed it better.

Maintain relationships that are not aligned with who I am or who I want to be.

Take bags from stores.

Volunteer to help with school projects for which I have no interest, in which I don’t believe, or that don’t directly impact children.

Drive if I can walk.

Home Sweet Home


My First Home: May 1972

Our homes are such a very symbolic and integral part of lives.  It is the space we come back to each day.  It is where we live, laugh, cry, grow, eat, and sleep.  I have lived in many homes in my life and each one has been special in some way:

The home where I was born in Ronkonkoma, New York, where I learned to walk and talk.  Where I loved my first pet.  Where I played and ran through sprinklers.  Where I practiced my recorder, watched Mr. Rogers, figured out the Rubik’s Cube, played 45 records, created pictures on my Lite Brite, and learned to cook pudding.  Where I waited all year to watch The Wizard of Oz when it finally came on network tv again.  Where I traipsed through the woods with friends, singing songs and playing in the brook.  Where I was a kid.

Two apartments in Port Jefferson Station, NY, where I discovered the meaning of true friendship with Mindy, Fred, and Michael.

My mother’s house in Port Jefferson Station, where I spent hours and hours during the summer of 1993 making my first quilt as a gift for Chris, listening to Roy Orbison’s greatest hits. ” Dum, dum, dum, dum dee do ah.  Ooo yeah yeah yeah yeah.  Only the lonely….”

My father’s boats in Oakdale, NY and Hampton Bays, NY, where I got to live year-round for 6 years.  Where I learned adventure, navigation, mechanics, teak preservation, the beautiful solitude of winter on the water, and how to dominate Q-Bert on Atari 5200.

My home in Farmingville, NY with my dad and Kathy and brother, where I fell in love with quaint spaces, gables, dormers, and secret hiding spaces.  Where I learned that a family of four can live in a house with one bathroom (remember when that was an acceptable option?).  Where my first boyfriend broke my heart.  Where I learned to drive.  Where I studied for the SATs and got into college. 

Various Cornell University dorms (Low Rise 9 and the “Connect 4 World Tournaments” with Phil, and Cascadilla Hall, where Sue and I lived in an impossibly small amount of space) and apartments in Ithaca, NY (Linden Ave, where I fell in love with the captain of the sailing team over a glass of iced tea, and Blair Street, where I woke one day to find my car buried COMPLETELY under snow).  Cornell: where I grew up, found independence, and learned many of my most meaningful life lessons.

My dorm in Stockholm, Sweden, where my mind opened to the immense size of the world, where the sun set for three hours in August and rose for three in December.  Ja, jag kan lite svenska.

An apartment I shared with my friend Davin in Hoboken, NJ, where I discovered how fun it could be to have your very first place, with  a special roommate, even if you have to walk up 4 flights to a tiny space without air conditioning.

An apartment I shared with my friend Jennifer in Midland Park, NJ, where I walked 2 miles each way to the Ridgewood train station to get to Lyndhurst, and then 1 mile each way to get to my office.  Where I got my “uphill in the snow” story to tell my kids when they whine about “only” making $100,000 out of college someday.

A townhouse in Mahwah, NJ: our first home together, where all that playing house as a child got to become a reality.  Where Chris and I built fires, hosted New Year’s Eve parties, decorated with no money and lots of hand-me-downs, and couldn’t stop smiling at each other.

Our townhouse in Ramsey, NJ: where we got engaged, got married, and welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world.  Where so many happy memories were made.   Where we made our first souffle.  Where we started our adventures in home improvement.  Where I broke my ankle. Where I was on 9/11.  Where I met Steffanie.  Where we partied in our basement pub.  Where I became a teacher.  Where I got my first brand new car (which we still have!) Where Bryson turned one and Chris and I turned thirty.  Where we left part of our hearts.

Our home in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ: where we are today.

I have had many homes.  More than some, and not as many as others.  Each one symbolizes a part of my life, a period of growth, a pivotal moment.  But no other place has felt so much like home as where our family lives today.  For Reese and Porter, it is the only home they have known.  But even for them, it has changed so much in the last 9 years.

When we moved in, our new house needed a lot of work.  I was peeling floral wallpaper off the walls 30 minutes after being handed the keys at the closing.  We haven’t stopped making it our own since that moment.  Chris and I are handy, and I have had a vision for our home from the very beginning.  It has been a fun adventure to make that vision come to life together.  From renovating our kitchen to adding a bedroom and family room, to fixing up our basement, each project has brought us closer and closer to our dream home.  And in the process, using our own hands to do much of the work ourselves has given us a special tie to the place we now call home. 

At the risk of being accused of writing to hear myself speak, or of showing off my literary knowledge just for the sake of it, I must at this point quote from Walden.  For if you are going to write about homes, if you are going to write about simplicity, if you are going to write about using one’s own hands to create the space in which he rests-you must allow a moment for Henry David Thoreau, who built his home with his own hands and waxed poetic about it for 226 pages.  If you have read my Quotes page (see the top menu bar), you know that half of my current favorite quotes come from Walden.  I’ve been in the mood for simplification for a few years now.  And his academically philosophical approach to simplicity just rocks my boat.

“There is some of the same fitness in a man’s building his own house that there is in a bird’s building his own nest.  Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?”

Anyone who has hung a picture, installed a garbage disposal, fixed their leaky sink, grown a plant, or painted a wall knows the special connection to their home and garden that is created by engaging in its upkeep or improvement.  It is a special combination: using one’s hands, which brings a sense of creativity, usefulness, and primal resourcefulness, along with the ingrained sense of belonging and safety that is attached to one’s home.

Chris and I spent many months searching for our home.  It wasn’t exactly what we thought we wanted, but we could see the possibilities in it, and we could live with the compromises that had to be made.  For example, we really wanted to be secluded from neighbors, to have some space around us.  The 1 and 2 acre property sizes of Upper Saddle River and Saddle River made us drool.  When touring some of these homes for sale, my eyes would constantly be drawn to the windows, where trees, grass, and the beauty of nature was unmarred.  What a decadent luxury it would be to enjoy that kind of peace and seclusion after living in a townhouse, where thumping music penetrated the walls at 3 am, and you couldn’t put a potted plant on your front steps without getting a letter stating how you have violated section 3 (a) ii, which clearly prohibits homeowners from propagating vegetation on said front steps.  But the 2 acre dream properties were not to be.  As it turns out, our Ho-Ho-Kus home on a lovely, tree-lined street, is close to neighbors, children, and our quaint little town.  We had no idea how wonderful it was going to be to take walks after dinner and stop to say hi to neighbors walking with strollers, raking their leaves, or stopping their cars to say “hi”.  I was unaware of the endless entertainment value for small children of walking to town to get a library book, fill a prescription at the pharmacy, get an ice cream at the local convenience store, walk by the stream that meanders through town, or pay our water bill at town hall.

Other things, like the small bedrooms and the *SHOCK* only one and half baths, we knew could be fixed.  Over the years, we have slowly expanded and painted and fixed and tweaked and learned everything from plumbing to drywalling to wiring.  Chris is especially talented and has a knack for learning by doing.  He has replaced a popcorn ceiling, installed crown molding, built a mantle and a computer armoire, installed radiant heat and hardwood floors, and done framing.  He enjoys when my father comes to visit and lends his expertise and hard work to our projects as well.  There is something special about these times that cannot be explained.  For my dad, it is a way to show us how much he loves us and how he is still there to take care of us.  For Chris, it is a collaboration among men and a chance to bond with a special parental figure.

After years of adding and changing the structure of our home, we have finally created just exactly the space we want and need for a family of five.  It will allow for children growing to teenagers and young adults and will accommodate all our needs without being excessive.  Not an inch of our home goes unused, which is just what we had pictured in our minds.

Next, we shifted our focus from the structure to the contents.  Two years ago, after years of baby toys and gear, I went on a rampage and decluttered.  It was such a transformational experience.  I had read about a philosophy where you look at each item in your home and only keep it if it is useful or you love it.  Wait, I think that might have been on the show “Clean House”.  (I’ll wait right here while you go and see if you can find another blog that quotes Thoreau and Clean House in the same post.  I dare you.)  Anyway, the idea stuck with me and I started going to town on our possessions.  Everything was fair game, which was tough for a sentimental person like me.  It has been liberating to live more simply.  The house seems cleaner and more organized.  There is finally a place for everything, even if everything isn’t always in its place.

Here’s the kicker.  Now that we have our home exactly how we want it, we’re leaving it for a year.  More on that in the next post….

What was your favorite home?  How many homes have you had?  What does your fantasy dream home look like?

Remembering to Remember


A friend recently read one of my posts and commented, “I think I  need to strive for equanimity.”  What a wonderful idea.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone gave themselves the gift of greeting each new day with the spirit of acceptance.  But, frustratingly, like many Buddhist concepts, Equanimity doesn’t come from Striving for it.  I like things for which you can strive.  You make a goal, you figure out what needs to be done, and you just do it.  Equanimity results from remembering to observe oneself.  It’s not the kind of thing that fits easily on a To-Do list.  Because as soon as you try observing yourself, your mind does everything in its power to get you to observe ANYTHING ELSE ON EARTH.  And sometimes EVERYTHING else!  Our minds are so busy and want so desperately to focus on what is without, instead of what is within.  Observing comes with remembering to remember. 

My friend’s comment made me realize how Remembering to Observe is a habit that, when practiced over and over, can start to occur on its own.  I think that is why I find myself saying “I am practicing Buddhism” instead of “I am Buddhist.”  In the past six months, I have surprised myself by meeting some difficult situations with Equanimity.  Something would occur, and afterwards, I would look at my reaction and realize that I met the situation with acceptance.  I didn’t have to say to myself, “Let’s meet this with Equanimity.”  It would just happen.

A small example was a day when I had a terrible headache.  In the past, I would experience a headache with a sense of physical pain, but with emotional pain as well.  My head hurt, but I would find my thoughts streaming with negativity like, “I’m never going to feel better again,” “Why do I always get headaches?,” and lots of, “I shouldn’t have overdone it/forgotten to eat/stayed up late/had an extra glass of wine/etc.”  This time, I felt the physical pain of the headache, but my thoughts were neutral.  I thought, “This pain is bad and I don’t like it, but I know it won’t last forever so all I have to do is rest and wait it out.  What a great opportunity to give myself a chance to rest and take care of myself, which I wasn’t going to do on this busy day.”  Ok.  I know a headache is small potatoes compared with some of the challenges and traumas of life, but you gotta start somewhere, right?

Equanimity isn’t the only thing to Remember to Remember.  When I began this incredible journey, it seemed an insurmountable task to undertake the Five Precepts in Buddhism.  The Precepts is the code of ethics calling for people to abstain from killing (known as Ahimsa and interpreted as non-harm), stealing, lying, intoxication (or anything that compromises the mind), and sexual misconduct (or relationships not based in love).  Yet, without going through the formal Buddhist steps of “taking vows”, I promised myself that for the rest of my life, I would work on cultivating the five precepts of Buddhism.  As suggested by a teacher, I started with Ahimsa.  If you work at not harming anyone or anything, it turns out you also end up not lying, stealing, muddying your mind, or engaging in unhealthy relationships, because all those things hurt others or yourself.  So really, if I just focus on non-harm, I end up adhering to all 5 precepts.  I’m all about a 5 for 1 deal. 

Well.  Go ahead and try not to harm.  Go ahead.  I lasted five minutes on my first “oh-so-optimistic” day.  My friend Christina and I were leaving the yoga retreat where we had learned all about Ahimsa.  We were walking to the car, chatting excitedly about all the changes we were going to make and all geared up for the long drive home, where we would share all the insights we gained from the weekend.  We got to the car, and literally AS I’M GOING ON AND ON about my wonderful and virtuous new Ahimsic life, I look down at the muddy, winter-ravaged dirt parking lot and see a beautiful purple crocus poking through some rocks.  Like a kid at Christmas, I got that “oooo!” look on my face as a big smile erupted.  “It’s a beautiful sign from the universe that I am embarking on this new Path!” I thought.  I bent down, intent on saving it as a reminder of this transformational weekend.  And as my fingers plucked it from the ground, the horror set in and my “ooo!” turned to “oh nooooo!”  I killed a plant.  WHILE I WAS TALKING ABOUT MY COMMITTMENT TO NON-HARM.  It was so ironic that I found it funny even then.  I looked at Christina, who looked very understanding and forgiving, and said, “Well, that lasted long.  I think this is going to be harder than it seems!”

Since Ahimsa is so very difficult, I tried starting with little things, like refusing to kill a bug or swat at a mosquito.  I mean, apart from allowing animals to be used for my food, how hard could it be to just NOT KILL anything?  If you read my blog about Ahimsa, you will see that I was tested very thoroughly on that idea last summer (groundhogs, cicadas, and maggots, oh my!).  Once I survived that non-killing spree, I decided to dive right into the rest of non-harming.  By really observing what I am going to say BEFORE I say it, I am stopping myself from saying things I would normally have said in the past.  I am happy that I am realizing just in time that some of the things I would have said are hurtful, even if on a very socially acceptable level.  The sarcastic teasing, the passive-aggressive comments, the emails that have judgement and self-righteousness between the lines, the way we discipline our children when anger gets the best of us….

I am trying so hard, but it’s a long road.  I make mistakes all the time.  Like all of us, with my words I have hurt the people I love as well as strangers.  My task these days has been to practice compassion for myself when I see that I have hurt someone.  The precepts are not meant to be rules or laws.  They are guidelines to facilitate practice.  It is virtually impossible for all but the most incredibly dedicated practitioners to live a life without harming.  It seems to me that just the intent to live such a life is a huge step in the right direction and that becoming conscious of how our thoughts, words, and actions affect others is the first step on the Path to leading a kind and compassionate life.

Interestingly enough, by committing to non-harm , I find I am remembering to choose to say and do things that help to make people smile and to express my gratitude.  As I reassess my dreams for this life, I find that doing more of this fits in very nicely.  What are you committed to?  What guidelines help you to live a better life?

p.s. If you like this or my other posts on gardening, yoga, meditation, cycling, and living an enlightened life, please subscribe to my blog.  I will soon stop publicizing my blog on Facebook so new posts won’t have a link through FB.  Thanks!  Subscribing just means you will receive an email when I publish a new post.  See the “Subscribe” box on the right.

40 in 40


The view from my ride in Harriman State Park

My son’s math lessons stress the importance of using Units when answering questions.  So what are the units here?  40 ounces in 40 minutes?  I wish, but it’s not 1994 anymore, folks.  Loads in days?  Even WE don’t make that much laundry!  Oh wait.  Yes we do.  Actually, we make more.  Forget that one.  Actually, I rode 40 miles in 40 degrees.  I was finally able to say, “I’m cold,” which I’m sure shocks many of you.  You see, I’m the one in a tennis skirt at drop-off at 8:15am in January.  I’m the one who refuses to wear a hat while skiing.  I even have to get special acupuncture treatments in July so that I don’t have to spend the month with my head in the freezer.  I don’t get cold.  Well, except when I get the bright idea to ride my bike on a “brisk” November morning.  My friend Streader (are you reading this?) would have literally passed out from the cold after surely losing a finger to frostbite.  She is probably thinking that I’m out of my mind right about now (as she basks in the temperate California climate.)

I’m still a beginner rider, and I spent most of the summer sweltering in my bike jersey and lycra shorts, so I’m not all fitted out with the $1000 worth of winter riding gear that I’m sure I would be convinced to buy if I set foot in a bike shop right now.  I did buy long-fingered gloves, because two weeks ago, I rode in the same weather with my fingerless gloves and thought I really was going to lose a finger or two from frostbite.  That wind feels pretty numbing when you’re going downhill!  So today I just layered up and got started.  The friend I rode with was geared up from head to toe and warned me sixteen times that it was cold, but I’m NORWEGIAN.  We go to the beach when it’s 40!  But I felt cold when we started.  Luckily, I had to work hard to keep up and I warmed up pretty quickly.  Except for my fingers.  That wind even got through my new gloves.  But I was so distracted by the hills that I quickly forgot that and focused on the fact that I could barely breathe.

It was a great ride.  It wasn’t my longest, and I really petered out at the end from exhaustion, but I was brave enough to tackle a hill that was steep and long.  Apparently, it’s one of those hills that are well known to riders.  I think it was called Wagraw Road, but my brain is a bit fried and I was hyperventilating when my friend told me the name of it.  I think it runs alongside Surprise Lake.  Yeah.  Surprise!  This road just turns and turns and keeps on going straight uphill for about a half mile.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it psyched me out after awhile.  I came around yet another turn and looked up for a second to see that it was still really steep.  My faith in myself faltered for a split second, but that’s all it took for me to imagine myself slowing down EVEN MORE to the point where I couldn’t balance my bike and then falling down with my feet clipped in to the pedals.  (I was going so slow at one point that my Garmin bike computer thought I had stopped and the “auto pause” feature kicked in.  Nice.)  I gave up with just a little bit left and had to walk my bike up to a flat spot in order to get on and keep going up.  Even with that, I was super proud of myself for tackling it, for getting right back on (as if I had a choice) and for riding another 23 miles.  Next time, I’ll make it the whole way (and maybe I’ll register speeds higher than 0.0 mph)

We rode out of Franklin Lakes towards Wayne, Pompton Lakes, and Lincoln Park.  We ended up going through Montville, through the lake areas between Kinnelon and Boonton, and back to Franklin Lakes.  The roads were quiet with maybe three traffic lights the whole way.  The scenery was as breathtaking as the hills (seriously.  It took me about 20 minutes to catch my breath after that little climb!).  On one downhill, I had a What About Bob? moment and thought to myself, “I’m FLYING!!!!” (instead of sailing, of course).  We came around a turn going downhill at over 30 miles an hour and it seemed like the whole world just opened up to me as I flew over it.  As shocking as it may sound to hear me make a (positive) Disney reference, it felt a bit like a real life ride on Soarin’.  The trees are in full fall foliage color, the sky was bright blue, the air was crisp and fresh, and I had a full view of the landscape as it unfolded before me in a slow-motion film of hills, sky, winding road, and me.  I quickly forgive the pain of the uphills during moments like this.

I’m convinced that knowing where to ride is a bigger part of this game than I originally thought.  In an earlier blog, I balked at the waste of time involved in driving somewhere to start riding, instead of just leaving from one’s house.  But getting out of Dodge (aka Bergen County) quickly is vital.  So if you have to drive to Franklin Lakes to do it, so be it.  Two weeks ago, I spent the first half of a 50 mile ride just getting to Harriman State Park.  Once there, I enjoyed smooth, quiet roads and beautiful scenery, and I thought about how nice it would be to just drive directly there and explore the country roads for the full ride.

Moments before the "crash of a hundred bruises"

After that ride was over, I was more convinced that my idea was a good one.  After falling- pretty badly- I ended up taking a wrong turn somewhere in the park and exited Harriman in Sloatsburg, NY, on Rt. 17 West.  If you know where I’m talking about, I assume you are groaning as much as I did when I realized where I was.  The road is pretty busy in Sloatsburg, but then it turns into a full-on highway as you are faced with major exits for Routes 287, 87, 59, and NJ 17.  Yeah.  I was thinking the same thing.  Is it even LEGAL for me to be on a highway like that?  I had to ride across two lanes of highway traffic to take the exit for Rt. 59 and ended up safe and sound (sort of) in Suffern.  (Aside: Why do people say “Suff Rin”?  How annoying is that?)  At least I know enough after looking at the map afterwards not to do that again, but it was pretty scary while it was happening.  Plus, I was pretty beat up after my fall (ok, 2 falls) and my brake got twisted in the wreck, so I wasn’t 100% confident with my mechanical abilities when I tried to fix it.

Well, I’m still a little cold and it’s been 3 hours since I finished riding.  I’m going to go finish packing for Florida and think about sitting on the beach with a book, my other favorite hobby!  I’ll blog again when I tackle that hill completely!

p.s. When we got back to Franklin Lakes, I could barely lift my leg over the bike to get off.  My friend proceeded to go for a run, do some swim training, and was then meeting up with a different friend to ride again.  Amazing.

Silence


“Before speaking, consider whether it is an improvement on silence.” -Swami Kripalvanandaji