Friday, October 26, 2012


The older I get, the less patience I have at certain times. Seems like when the issue is insignificant, I tend to lose my patience more quickly. Usually it's only apparent to me, or at least I try to keep it to myself. So mostly I find myself annoyed when I'm driving.

Some people drive too fast, and I complain to myself how dangerous it is. Some drive too slowly, and then I wonder if they ever manage to get anywhere at all. Some cut me (or others) off, weave in and out of traffic, and don't look either direction in parking lots.

Now I know I need to corral that inner Zen of mine, take deep breaths and just relax. And I am working on it. I sure don't like the impatient side that keeps trying to frequently pop out. In the spirit of assisting me in my quest, the reality of life steps in now and then and smacks me quietly but effectively in the face.

Like today. I stopped for gas at one of our local stores. As I pulled back into the parking lot on my way to the street, the car ahead of me stopped. A small pickup truck had halted traffic in front of us, as if it wanted to pull into a parking space to the left, and it was halfway there.

I'm used to that happening. Sometimes drivers will wait forever for someone to leave a spot so they can snag it. Fine, unless there are forty other spaces a bit further away. But this little truck was blocking us, the cars coming toward us, and all indications seemed the purpose was to wait for a space.

I'm ashamed to admit I was quite irritated with that driver. Why did he or she have to block our way, make us wait all this time,  just to save a few steps? Then the truck pulled forward toward the space, which I noticed was empty, but didn't pull into it. I wondered if he knew how to maneuver. Yes, I was silently snarky.

The delay wasn't more than 30 seconds. Seriously. All my griping for such a short amount of time. And once that truck pulled forward, it was only blocking the oncoming lane, and we could pull around it. So we did.

Once I got past it, I was instantly smacked by the universe. The little truck was waiting for the parking space, but the car next to it had an open door. And on the passenger side of that car, there was a man lifting a little girl into a small wheelchair.

Talk about humbling. I was grumbling and fussing over my delay of a few seconds, and the driver of the truck was kind and patient enough to wait until the man could put his daughter into her chair and then close the door.

Even though no one had a clue how impatient I was, or how I was ranting quietly to myself about inconsiderate drivers, I was ashamed that I jumped to conclusions. And then I realized even if there had been no wheelchair and little girl, why should I get so upset about a short delay for someone who was trying to park? It was so silly.

I remembered when my kids were in driver's education, and how tentatively they started out on the road. During that time I was so patient with other drivers, especially young ones, thinking that maybe they were just being very careful due to inexperience.

Who am I to judge? If someone is not directly and unnecessarily endangering my life, why can I not give that person the benefit of the doubt?

It's really hard to write and post this on my blog, because I feel like I should be a better person than this. By posting, I might reinforce that virtual slap across my face I received today. Maybe I'll be calmer, kinder, less rushed. Maybe I'll learn, once again, the contentment and peace that comes with patience.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To Infinity and Beyond!

(Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story)

Twenty-four miles. Think about traveling somewhere twenty-four miles from your current location. Your perspective on that distance would change depending on your mode of transportation. In an automobile, with light traffic and higher speed limits, you could drive twenty-four miles in a half hour or less. On a bicycle, pedaling at an average speed, you could make it in about two hours. Walking that distance could take around eight hours, if you're like me.

Now imagine that same distance, twenty-four miles, straight up in the sky. Seemingly at the edge of space. To give it a little perspective, when you fly with a commercial airline, you might top out around five miles.

If you've been paying any attention to the news lately, you might know where I'm going with this. Last Sunday a brave man named Felix Baumgartner climbed into a small capsule and, using the power of a huge hot air balloon, rose 128,100 feet above the earth (over 24 miles). Wearing a special suit to protect him from instantly freezing or suffocating from lack of oxygen, he stepped off a tiny platform, arched his back, and started a most amazing freefall.

The camera attached to the capsule showed him falling to an earth that was barely distinguishable. I watched it live, or almost live, as the sponsors built in thirty seconds of delay in case of a disaster.

I've included a very short clip with a few of the highlights. This gives you a tiny taste of the tension I felt as Felix stepped onto the platform and into the atmosphere.


He broke several world records including:
The highest freefall;
The highest manned balloon flight, and;
The first human to break the sound barrier in freefall.

Felix traveled 833 mph, faster than the speed of sound, before being slowed down by denser air. His only protection from the deadly atmosphere surrounding him was a very well-insulated flight suit, one that would also allow him to fly under canopy and perform a gentle landing.

Because he was descending so quickly, he failed to break the previous record for the longest freefall. Felix had a "mere" 4:20 minute descent before his parachute opened. To put that into perspective, a normal freefall usually lasts from 30 to 45 seconds, with a speed of around 120 mph. The freefall record he didn't break belonged to Col. Joe Kittinger, who in 1960 ascended in a balloon to 102,800 feet and then fell for 4:36 minutes before deploying his parachute.

I watched Felix launch in his little capsule and hot air balloon, then took a two hour break, and watched the last half hour with the final sequence checklist (given to him by Col. Kittinger) and the entire nine minute journey back to solid ground. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

And it made me wonder – besides the "cool" factor, why spend all this money and risk a life to leap from the edge of space?

Because of our global connectiveness, we humans tend to think that we know so much. After all, we have satellites to map the entire planet. We've been to the moon and back, circled the globe in space shuttles, and now have our own mechanical ET exploring the surface of Mars. But what do we really know? Seventy percent of our planet is covered in water, much of our oceans are inaccessible and unexplored. Earth is but a minuscule speck in the universe, and perhaps our universe is a small speck in something much bigger that we will never be able to observe.

We don't know a lot more than we do know. Exploration and new discoveries are interesting to say the least, and who knows—someday these findings might save the planet and all humanity.

I was disappointed when I heard a few years ago that our government was shutting down the space shuttle program. However, thanks to private companies like Red Bull, who sponsored Felix Baumgartner's record jump and skydive, we can still find pioneers willing to risk their lives in search of the next miraculous discovery; on earth, in the ocean, and in space. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"But You Have Indoor Plumbing..."

Today was a good day. I spent it helping my friend John work at his cabin in a resort area, getting it ready for vacation rental. I've done this many times before, and I always have fun. The cabin sits on a wooded one acre lot. Unless the nearby forests are on fire, which happened this summer, the air is always crisp and clean. It smells like camping.

Sometimes I work really hard— hauling firewood, cleaning out deadwood, painting, staining, washing windows. Other times it's been a little easier. Today I spent my time sorting through old sheets and towels, remaking beds with new linens, and vacuuming up lots and lots of flies (in years past there were seldom any dead flies. The bats got them all. Now the bats have been banished from the house, so the flies have free reign until their short little lives expire naturally.)

Of course I always get some perks for my work. I have several free nights which I could use anytime of the year, if it's not already rented. It's close to two ski resorts, many wonderful mountain trails, a golf course, and a nearby hot springs. Someday I'm actually going to find that hot springs and perhaps I'll bring my golf clubs too.

It's a beautiful place. Yes, it looks like a log cabin. Because it is. The outside of the cabin and the inside exterior walls are formed of logs. Once the woodstove has been burning for awhile, the inside of the logs heat up nicely and the whole place is cozy warm. But that's the only reminder that it's a cabin.

Because it's actually a house (with log walls). Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a nice kitchen, laundry area, dining room and living room. A deck that wraps halfway around the cabin, half of it covered. It's awesome.

I should emphasize, this cabin has two bathrooms.  Indoor. With showers and sinks and toilets. So why, oh why did I end up peeing outside by the shed today when the temperature was 40 degrees?

Common sense would have led me straight to one of the two fully operational bathrooms. But nature convinced John otherwise.

Because dear reader, a fox had decided that a nice, warm den underneath John's shed would be an ideal place to live during the cold winter months.

And actually the story started many months earlier. John saw the fox. Then he saw the signs of digging. Then he saw an ambitious beginning of a fox hole. He brought his rifle with him once. He filled in the holes and covered them with rocks. To no avail, for that fox was determined to claim the undershed territory for a cozy little home.

So during our last visit over a month ago, my friend said that when it was time for me to heed Mother Nature's call, to please pee in the foxhole. Apparently this was a way to make the hole so disgusting, no self-respecting fox would even contemplate moving in.

I refused. Indoor toilets seemed like a much better solution. Besides, John already took care of that.

Today however, I acquiesced. Although it probably won't work, I found myself peeing in the fox hole. Now, it wasn't as bad as it sounded. First of all, there were no passing cars or neighbors who could possibly see me. Second, I have peed in much weirder places during trail runs in the hills. And third, I just wanted John off my back about this. And if I could save this fox from a sad end, I would do my part to gross the poor dear out and help him or her find a more suitable winter home.

I don't know if this will work. Time will tell.  Either the dirt around the shed will remain untouched by canine claws, or next spring we will see a litter of cute little fox kits. I know what I want to see, but then, it's not my cabin...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Soup Weather!

If you read my post yesterday, you might remember it was about the weather. Now just to clarify, I wasn't talking about the weather only because I had nothing else to say. I have a lot to say, but some of it I'm not ready for the whole world (or six or seven of you anyway) to read.

Today I'm continuing on with the weather, but only for this paragraph, I promise. It's another sunny day, will get up to the mid-70s again but right now it's a bit cool. With that in mind, I threw together a pot of ham and potato soup. I had some habanero peppers from my garden that I tossed in just for fun, along with random spices, onion, garlic, and celery. From my initial taste test I think I have a winner.

By the way, these peppers are so hot that when I sliced them to take the seeds out, my eyes watered, my throat started burning just from the smell I guess, and I had to back away to stop coughing and sneezing. That was with running water too. I find it odd that as hot as they are when I first handle them, they mellow so much in the dishes I put them in. There is only a slight kick to the soup, and not identifiable.

Of course, what's soup without some nice crusty french bread? Well, it's still soup, but what will you use to wipe the bowl when you're almost done?

I love to make bread. I use my KitchenAid mixer (I splurged and upgraded to one with a bigger motor) and it does the kneading for me. Although I do love the texture of dough in my hands, and the almost meditative feeling of working it into a soft, smooth ball, it's a lot of work and time-consuming. So I usually take a short cut.

This bread is just now going through rising number one. Soon I will split it into long baguette loaves and let it rise again, brushing with a little egg wash to give it a crusty golden top.

The best part is baking it. The smell just about does me in, especially if I'm outside at the beginning and step back inside just before it's ready to pull from the oven. It's so hard not to sample right away. I think the only time I can hold off is when company comes for dinner and we are going to eat within a few minutes.

How can I resist? With the crunchy crust and soft, chewy middle...and the aroma! And of course I have to use real butter on my bread. No fake stuff for me. I do have some homemade plum jam some friends gave me – they had a lot of fruit on their tree this year. I might add that to a steaming hot slice.

Anyone want to come over for dinner tonight?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How's the Weather Out There?

There is no season such delight can bring
As summer, autumn, winter and the spring.
~William Browne

It's almost the middle of October. If you live in Idaho, you know what that means. Overnight temperatures will likely be near freezing or below, and daytime temperatures could range from cold to almost warm.

Today it is supposed to hit 72 degrees. It's sunny and so beautiful out. Definitely shorts weather. I love it!

However, it makes me feel a bit discombobulated. This time of year I try to keep the heat turned way down, especially when I sleep. Part of it is for energy conservation and lower heating bills. But a lot of it is that I simply don't want to give in to the end of summer or mild fall days, so I'm trying to put it off as long as possible. Yes, I know it never works, but there's something so final about turning on the heat after months of trying to stay cool.

At bedtime I sleep with flannel sheets and a big comforter and do just fine. When I wake up in the morning there's a chill in the house. If I don't turn up the furnace it stays just a bit cool all day, enough that I want to wear a sweater.

I find myself hanging out a little longer in the shower, with the water as hot as I can stand, just to take the chill off. I know it sort of defeats the purpose of keeping the furnace temperature down, but I just can't help myself.

I open my blinds and curtains to let the sunlight in. When I step outside, the sun warms me up. Try as I might, I can never get enough of that warmth inside the house to be comfortable. That is, until early evening when it finally warms up. Then it's almost time to snuggle in my warm covers all over again.

I'm not complaining though. I know that soon it will be really cold outside, and stay that way for months. That's when I pull my snow skis out and start planning a few ski trips. And as the weather changes I will slowly acclimate, break down and use my furnace, and won't feel the need to double my shower time.

I love living in Idaho, even with the oftentimes crazy weather. It's so nice to have seasons. I appreciate each one, and by the time they draw to an end, look forward to the next. 

Of course, if you catch me in the middle of winter I might be whining about the everlasting cold, the snow that won't melt, and the springtime that is taking its sweet old time getting here. Hawaii always sounds pretty good by the end of January.

But for now, I think I'll head outside and warm up. It's a little chilly in my house.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Running 100 Miles. Are You Crazy?

Last Saturday morning I drove 2.5 hours up north to the resort town of McCall to help with an aid station for runners doing a 100 mile trail run. Yes, it was 100 miles, actually about 102 miles but at that point what does another mile or two matter?

This was called the IMTUF100 (Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival) or I Am Tough if you want to be phonetic about it. Our aid station was at mile 58.7. I was late to the party, because I wanted to stop in Boise on the way and buy chicken strips from KFC for the runners and they didn't open until 11:00am. A friend of mine who used to run these ultras told me they would be appreciated. And they were.

The race started at a local hot springs at 6:00am. Our aid station captains, Ulli and Traudl, along with another volunteer, Bob, had the whole thing set up by the time I arrived. So I was glad I could contribute the chicken, some candy, homemade cookies and lots of blankets and chairs. We didn't expect the first runner until late afternoon, but even I was surprised when he came running in just before 4:00pm.

So by my calculations he averaged close to 9 minutes per mile. Over 58.7 miles. Of steep ascents and descents. And when he showed up he looked great. He ate a little, had us refill his water, grabbed a long sleeve shirt and headed out to conquer the next 11 miles to another aid station, all while it was getting colder and darker.

Yes, he impressed me, but I have to admit I was even more in awe of the runners who made it in after the first few frontrunners. Because they were tired, cold, hungry, and aching. A few decided 58.7 miles was enough and listened to their bodies and minds and dropped at our station. But so many of them warmed their bodies by the fire, grabbed some food and drink, listened to the encouraging words thrown at them, and headed off into the dark night for the next major aid stop 11 miles away. They were exhausted, mentally prepared to go on, and able to ignore aching legs and blistered feet. They were the heroes.

Did I mention that these trails, in addition to being up and down hill traverses (sometimes requiring a bit of scrambling using hands) were also in the middle of the wilderness? There were little critters around, like chipmunks, squirrels, mice, raccoons, and rabbits, And there were bigger critters around, like mountain lions and bears, who usually leave humans alone. But they were there, and they were close.

Our station had a cutoff of 2:15am. Any runner who showed up after that would not be allowed to continue. We had two runners who didn't make the cut. One was 30 minutes late and he was happy to stop. The other arrived around 4:30am, and she was exhausted but in decent shape.

Helping out at this event was a great experience. We saw a couple of deer hanging around camp. It's odd, when humans show up at weird times, like the middle of the night, deer are not that scared to hang out. When I was heading to my car to leave I heard an owl hooting. It was so cool. I admit I was glad I didn't see a bear or a big cat though.

By the time we packed up our camp, with the canopy, chairs, tents, food, etc, it was about 4:00am. I was given the go-ahead to leave, while the aid station captain and a volunteer waited for the last runner. I went a few hundred feet and noticed my low tire light was on.  

I checked all the tires, and probably because of the low temps (around 20 degrees) the pressure was down in all of them. So I made it to town, found a gas station and put air in the tires. At 5:30 I was on my way. In hindsight (well, actually I thought of it at the time) I had no business driving on that particular road in the early hours without a wink of sleep all night. But all I wanted to do was go home and crawl into my own bed.

At that hour it was a fairly deserted highway going through a beautiful canyon and countryside, which I couldn't see because it was still dark. I made sure the radio was on a comedy channel (hurray for XM radio!) and kept it nice and cool in the car. I made it home at 7:30am, didn't unload a thing, jumped in the shower, climbed in my bed with earplugs and an eye mask and slept straight through to the middle of the afternoon.

It took me the rest of the day and a good night's sleep to feel somewhat normal again.

My takeaway for this adventure was profound and important. It emphasized what I have been told but still struggle with. The human body, if sufficiently prepared, is able to withstand great trials. If our mind is in sync, and we are physically and mentally trained for success, we can accomplish almost anything. I truly believe this. I saw it in the runners who went on. I saw it in the runners who were not ready to go farther.

I am positive I will never run 100 miles. Yet I believe that if I want it badly enough, if I train my body well, and train my mind even better, I could do it. I could do it. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Limits? What Limits?

I like the thought of pushing myself, going beyond my usual plodding pace, no matter the activity.

Not that I always do more than just think about it.

I run, but I'm not the runner with arms and legs swinging back in forth in perfect rhythm, muscles straining, beads of perspiration forming rivulets down arms and legs, face scrunched in serious concentration.

I write, but not what I would call faithfully or even fruitfully. I don't wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and type away for three hours until it's time to stand, stretch, and feel oh-so-good about my progress.

I exercise, but not every day at the same time, slowly but surely building up strong muscles and improving my cardiovascular system.

Not me. That's too much work.

I take my time, hike uphill, run/walk on the flats, and run slowly downhill. It's still hard, but not "I want to collapse on the ground and cry like a baby" hard.

When I'm finally done checking what a friend of a friend posted on a social networking site (after checking e-mails, blogs, looking for funny cartoons, and generally trying to avoid the blank page in front of me), I sometimes write a few paragraphs, or even finish a post on my new blog.

And after I run out of procrastination excuses, I visit the gym. Once around the weight room, sometimes skipping a few stations because it's getting late. And hey, I can always do squats at home, right?

Sure, there are times I draw upon strength that surprises me. I find it useful when it's either push myself or die. Like when I'm scrambling up (or down) a steep mountain slope, hanging on for dear life instead of sliding down to certain death.

Or skydiving, when I am close to the ground, and speeding toward an active runway with hard concrete instead of the student landing area. I have to stay calm, think fast, and remember my training.

Or taking on a 32 mile ultra-marathon with over 4000 feet of total elevation gain. Running a loop from the start line twice, and oh, it was so tempting to quit after 16 miles. It took every mental muscle I had to keep my legs moving, because I set my goal and I did not want to fail.

Those are extreme examples. I don't encounter them every day. What I do face is the knowledge that I could do much better in so many routine areas of my life. I could write more. I could have an organized house. I could keep the pet hair and dust bunnies under control. Well, you get the idea.

My catalyst for change came in a surprise package. Last year I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo,  as we affectionately call it. During the month of November, I managed to type out a novel with over 50,000 words. That's an average of 1,667 words per day. Say that out loud. One thousand, six hundred, sixty-seven words. 

It was easy, and it was also one of my most challenging undertakings. Easy, because I didn't have to try to write the perfect novel that would soon pop up on the New York Times bestseller list. I just had to hit the word count with some semblance of a plot. Challenging, because I wanted it to actually be a story, so while typing furiously I also needed to type somewhat thoughtfully. And it's difficult to pound out almost 1,700 words on average each day for 30 days.

I succeeded. I knew I would, because deep inside, this was life or death. Not physical death, but the death of a dream. Like so many of us, I have stories inside me begging and banging to get out. Like so many of us, I kept thinking "someday, I'll write a book."

My "someday" began last November. My little novel still sits, mostly unedited, and quite neglected. But it is there, and it has given me the courage to try again with another story.

Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Leap of Faith

Almost six years ago I jumped out of an airplane. Not a perfectly good one, mind you. Because I've been told repeatedly by those who claim to know, "there are no perfectly good airplanes." Which is why skydivers prefer to jump out thousands of feet in the air versus staying in the plane as it touches down on terra firma.

My first jump-yes, I am a repeat offender-gave me a mere glimpse of freedom in the sky. Thankfully I was securely attached to a tandem instructor named Andre (in the picture). Yes, he was French. And tall. And cute. Then I met Dave the videographer, who jumped out with us to capture this moment (rather, five minutes) for posterity.

When I asked Andre a few questions to reassure myself he loved life and intended on sticking around for a long time, Dave dived into the conversation, solemnly informing me that very recently Andre's girlfriend broke up with him, he wrecked his car, his job was in jeopardy, and his dog was run over this morning. Of course I laughed. That Dave, what a cut-up. Joking around moments before I was scheduled to be hurled out at 13,000 feet. (Dave, you were joking, right? You do have a sense of humor?)

How long had I wanted to try a skydive? Thinking back, it started when my brother and my sister both tried it, decades ago when they were still in college. Of course we all know our brain cells are still forming, shifting and deciding what they want to be when they grow up, so the mind's decision-making ability is not always optimal. This explained a lot. But I digress from my digression.

First, my brother. He made two jumps, both using a static line and both with the old round canopies that pretty much floated and landed you wherever the winds decided. The static line was a setup to ensure a new jumper didn't forget to pull the ripcord and deploy the parachute. Ha, as if anyone would forget. Forget in time before you came dangerously close to earth? Maybe. But forget entirely? Doubtful.

So, as you jump from the airplane, the line connecting your parachute to something in the airplane tightens and pulls for you. Easy, right? Right, only in my opinion, pulling is the easy part. Landing in one piece is a bit more of a challenge.

My brother found that out on his second jump. His first was fairly uneventful, but then the winds picked up. In hindsight, he had no business jumping out of a plane with his lack of experience and those conditions. He broke his ankle.

My sister's end of jumping was less eventful.She ran out of money.

Both great excuses for not continuing on with a sport that some find much too dangerous, and others find the most peaceful place to be.

Now, a decision. I have a perfect opportunity to finish my training and get my first skydiving license this November. I am not sure what I will do. Part of me says to go for it. It is truly the most remarkable, adrenaline rush I have ever done. Part of me says "are you crazy, lady?"

Stay tuned.