*waves white flag*

I know. I know that the blog is a wasteland of pe-nis enlargements, online gambling, and free iPads. I know. K. and I have been trying with various amounts of determination and desperation to find someone to move the site to somewhere that has even a smidge of spam filters which are functional to no avail. I am angry every day, all day long, as the 500-800+ spam messages clog my inbox and tell me that my site is interesting and useful. 2011–the year I move to new software and get my blog back!
In the meantime I wish you a wonderful, happy, healthy 2011, filled with good things and personal growth. I’ve got lots of plans for this year, promises to myself, and things I’d like to share with you. And as soon as I get this blog whipped into shape we’ll get this party started.
One thing right now: I’m getting back into the 365 saddle and I’ve started a small, friendly Flickr group for friends of mine who want to attempt it with me in 2011. If you want to gallop along with me and the gang let me know.
Ok. Happy New Year! I hate spammers. I’ll be back soon. Soon.

in Blogging | 1 Comment

6

Today is the 6th anniversary of my mother’s death from Stage IV melanoma. This bit I wrote just before she passed has never left me:

    And now my sweet mother is close to death. And it is not the beautiful death of the poets, but a slow agonizing death, a death where cancer chokes her, stealing her breath, shrinking her stature, paralyzing her. It is not calm, it is not peaceful, it is not beautiful or glorious or fitting. And there is no rage or ferocity to be had, no fighting the inevitable.
    It is simply terrible.

It was simply terrible and it still is. She was in a lot of pain, and the sight of it does not leave me. There is peace to be found as the years pass. There is sadness too.
Today my almost-melanoma diagnosis scares me anew and I hate my skin and I vow again to do whatever I can (which isn’t much sadly) to stay healthy, to ready myself for the terrible fight that could come, and to savor K., my children, and the days as much as I can. Suck the good out of life, find the positives when the days are dark and wretched, and fight, Fight, FIGHT! for yourself and for those who can no longer fight for themselves.
Today is dark. I embrace it as best I can.

in Life, isn't it glorious? | 30 Comments

four explores

R. is four today and we are on a grand four adventure. For his birthday R. requested “rides” and “eat on a train”. Rides—straightforward. Eating on a train—not so much. I tried to explain to him that most trains you aren’t even allowed to eat on, but he was having none of it. Each time we asked him he was quite sure that “eating on a train” was going to happen on his birthday.

So we popped in the car and headed out for a Big Birthday Weekend. We spent Saturday at Hershey Park, going on rides until our stomachs turned (well at least mine did). It was a perfect end-of-summer day, warm and bittersweet with hints of winter at the corners.

Sunday, The Birthday, was to be spent with the trains. Somehow, magically, Thomas the Tank Engine was running on R.’s actual birthday. Normally nothing in this big wonderful world could induce me to go within 100 miles of a Thomas weekend but it seems that R. has pull. Before I knew what was happening the tickets were ours and Thomas was happening.

So we rode Thomas and we rode the regular steam train, SITTING IN THE DINING CAR EATING EXPENSIVE, BAD FOOD THAT NO ONE REALLY LIKED, and some kind of super cool, really old electric trolley car thingy, and a tiny push cart wagon-y train, and the pedal cars. Oh, and a school bus. They were using school buses as shuttles to and from the very off-site parking and the kids were just as excited about the bus as they were about the trains. In a nutshell we rode just about everything there was to ride. There was also kettle corn and soft pretzels and photos with Thomas and many, many trips to the porta potties. People, we threw ourselves into the spirit of Thomas with abandon. (Although I firmly drew the line at waiting in a long line to meet Sir Topham Hat. No. Just No.)

R. had a lovely weekend and apart from the numerous potty breaks required by the newly potty trained he was charming and appreciative. Happy Fourth Birthday R.! We love you!

in Motherhood | 14 Comments

z. day

Today was a bad day. It’s the last day of vacation, unofficially the second to the last day of summer, last day of rest before school, last last last. We got up, lotioned up, packed up, and headed to the beach. It was sunny and cool, with a warm-ish crashy ocean and a beach littered with crab claws. An odd day, not a bad day as beach days go, but Big Picture bad.
We were attempting to get Z. to eat some frozen lemonade from the ice cream truck when I remembered that it was the anniversary of the day we met her. Suddenly I wasn’t avoiding the sun under an umbrella and two sandy towels cajoling her to take another bite. Rather I was sitting in a crowded conference room in Changsha under lousy fluorescent lights holding a baby toy and a sheaf of papers and waiting for the girls to arrive.
Arrive they did, each held by a smiling Chinese nanny, all except one. One girl was held by an unsmiling man who turned out to be the Vice Director of the CWI, a tiny wisp with a large bald head staring vacantly at her own fingers and rocking herself in a slightly discomfiting way. After carefully looking at each face I knew she was Z. There was an air of tension around her, and she was handed to us with questioning looks and vague explanations. I was thrown off momentarily—she looked so very, very different from her referral photos. Clearly something awful had happened to this tiny child in the months since the photos were taken.
It was an inauspicious beginning and things only went downhill from there. The two years following were painful and confusing and horrid in some very important ways. She was difficult to love and pretty much devoid of emotion herself (excepting the occasional smile at E.) for a long, long time. It wasn’t hard to pity her, though, or to feel protective and gentle and worried.
When I think about the day we met, and the months following, I cry. Every time. I cried today, sitting in one of my very favorite places in the world with the sun warming my toes in the beautiful sand. I said, “Z., Mama wants to take your picture. Give me a smile!” and she glanced over and smiled at me, a joyful smile, a silly giggly smile, a pensive smile, a shrieking smile while her Baba tickled her, and I cried.
Yesterday during my end-of-summer harangue I had said to K., “It’s going to be 18 long years of school with her—next year she’ll have spelling words!” and K. had calmly said, “Well she can’t do that. She will not be doing spelling words in first grade.” His eyes were kind as he said it and I had looked back wildly at him and had cried then too, wondering what she would be doing while everyone else was taking the spelling test each Friday. Yesterday was a sad crying day worrying over her ongoing limitations.
But today was a happy crying day, a day of thanks for the gift we have been given in Z., the lessons we have learned and are learning, the ways we have been changed, and the relationship we’ve built with a tiny wisp of a girl who still occasionally rocks and even more occasionally stares at her own fingers. Today, 5 years later, she is sweet and funny and kind and goofy and snuggly and clumsy and loud and withdrawn and not bald and not at all difficult to love.

in Adoption | 46 Comments

win

As it turns out I’m competitive. Well, I’m not competitive in the sense that I might win. I don’t win. Ever. But I’m competitive in the sense that I always want to win even when I’m most certainly not winning.
I rode my 22 miles at the fastest pace I could which turned out to be rather slow on account of the hills and the rain. I had my camera strapped on my back in my new little camera backpack thingy (just in case I was to see Lance at the start, which I didn’t) and at the end of the ride I thought to myself wouldn’t it have been cool if it wasn’t raining and I could have stopped here and there and taken shots of the course and the other riders and documented my 20 miles? I entertained that thought for about a minute and then burst out laughing (by myself in the car). Because I would never stop in the middle of a race or a ride, no matter how much I am not winning, no matter how much it is raining or not raining, no matter how beautiful the scenery. I rode as hard as I could and it felt good (because my legs are stronger than I had realized) and bad (because I am still slow and got passed a lot and I wished I could have ridden the 45 miles but I couldn’t). Still competitive, even when I’m not.
I had a good ride. I enjoyed it except for the part where I fell over before we ever got started. That part was embarrassing. But I picked myself right back up and then we all rode slowly in a huge pack and then the pack thinned out and then the rain started and then it rained hard and then it stopped and then I was riding alone and then it rained again and then I had half a banana and half a PB&J and some bad gatorade at the rest stop and then there was a big long hill that hurt and then it was the end and I crossed the finish line.
I’m very impressed with LiveStrong and the level of enthusiasm there was infectious and the survivors riding made me teary. It was all good. I’m psyched for next year and I’m grateful to everyone who supported my ride this year, planned as it was in 7 short days. So the ride was a win in the most important ways. Even if Lance did ride 100 miles in just about the time it took me to ride 20. We’re all winners! Even the slow ones!
Which reminds me. If you read my blog and you sent me a donation and I might not know your real name but only know you by your online moniker would you be a dear and send me an email to amy @ grrlTravels . com and let me know you contributed and what your real and online names are? Because I’d really like to thank you and it’s embarrassing that I don’t know your real name but I’ve got lots of online friends whom I always think of by their handles and it takes some real thought to get their names in my head. I’d appreciate it. A lot! Thanks! And Thanks!! It was really good to ride and think about all of the people I was “representing” through my relatives and friends and to feel connected to so many different people.

in A hobby here, a hobby there | 2 Comments

cure it!

Me: I don’t think I’m going to do the ride next weekend. It’s a lot of driving to ride my bike 20 miles.
K.: Ok, if you don’t want to.
Me: And I’d only be doing the 20 mile ride, not a longer one.
K.: Ok.
Me: And we’re going home the weekend after for my next race and so we should be here.
K.: If you want to do the ride you should do it. If not stay here.
Me: I don’t think I’m going to do it.
later
Me: Lance is going to be there!
K.: What?
Me: Lance is going to be there!
K.: What? (mumbles indistinctly and closes the sliding door)
I stop and try to decide if I should rush to the back door naked to tell K. in person. Decide that it’s better to get dressed. Get dressed in a hurry.
Me: Lance is going to be there!
K.: Where?
Me: At the ride next Sunday. Do you think if I went I might see him?
K.: Definitely possible.
Me: I need to raise $250 in the next 6 days in order to ride. Do you think I can do that?
K.: Um, sure.
Me: I know that it’s weird that I want to go and see him.
K.: It’s not weird.
It is weird. Partially because I have a very yin/yang thing with Lance: admire him as an athlete, love the work he does with his LiveStrong foundation, on a personal level, well it’s unlikely that we’ll ever meet so I guess I don’t have to worry about it. Plus I feel weird going out of my way to potentially get a glimpse of a professional athlete/celebrity. Not the way I roll. But then again I really want to see him. And I’m still smarting over the whole “28 jersey” fiasco and how I was in the car when they went on sale and then they sold out and I didn’t even have a shot at one and I really want one even though I generally don’t care about things where the quantities are extremely limited and you have to jump through hoops just to own something and the big fuss is half of the business of owning it and now people are making money off of them on eBay and I won’t buy one that way because those people are the dregs of the universe and I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
Oh fine, I’ll go potentially see him. Because he’ll be practically in my back yard and it would be a shame not to go potentially see him. Right?

Lots of people raise money as they run or race in in triathlons or bike for various causes. The Leukemia and Lymphoma society has a very active program to get people to raise money as they train for triathlons. For various reasons I am not drawn to working with LLS and so I’ve been poking around for another program. My favorite triathlon supports Susan G. Komen/breast cancer and I’ve got an increased risk for that due to a serious family history but in the end I see a lot of money being funneled into breast cancer research from a lot of very active programs and so wasn’t quite drawn to jump in.
Then one day I was poking around the internets as I sometimes do and ended up on LiveStrong. I love their mission and their services for people dealing with cancer right now. At LiveStrong they strive to “inspire and empower people affected by cancer. We believe that unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything.” If you know someone newly diagnosed one of the first places I would send them is LiveStrong. And it turns out that they have a program for cyclists and runners and triathletes similar to LLS and that one of the rides they sponsor happens to be in Philadelphia.* This got me all bubbly and excited and I decided that as intimidated as I was to try and raise money I was going to set an ambitious fundraising goal for the ride in August 2011.
And then they announced today on FB that Lance would be at the Philly ride next weekend.
So, the deal is that you have to raise $250 in donations just to participate in the ride. People form teams and there is this donation scale thing and if you raise enough money you get invited to a special event and it’s all very complicated. But it boils down to:
I am raising at least $250 in the next 7 days (with a goal of $500) to be donated to the LiveStrong foundation.
I am riding in memory of my mother Lois (melanoma), my grandmother Jessie (breast cancer), and V.’s mother Denise (breast cancer). I’ll be happy to add your relative or friend to the list—just leave a note in the comments.
If you’d like to contribute, please click on the link below to go to my LiveStrong page:

LiveStrong Challenge

If you donate to my ride I will send you (or your child/ren) a LiveStrong wristband and potentially an additional gift just from me if I get around to making them.
And dude? Let’s all Live Strong.
*Well, sort of. More like the far Western suburbs of Philadelphia, while I live miles to the East. But they call it Philadelphia on the Web site so there you are.
(Photo courtesy of LiveStrong.org.)

in A hobby here, a hobby there | Comments Off

race day

I greatly admire and value humility. I’m doing my best to raise humble kids and I admire humble people and if you asked me I would say that yes, I want humility to be a quality that describes me. And all of that is true right up until I’m called to be humble in a way I don’t want to be.
I was unprepared for my race. Running? Check. Biking? Got it. Swimming? Not so much. It’s fodder for another blog entry, but for some reason the part of me that was completely freaked out about swimming has been winning for months over the part of me that wants to race. Not nearly enough swimming. I was going to have to miss my race, the best race of the summer, the race I really wanted to do. I was bummed.
Then my gorgeous, magical, fabulous wetsuit arrived along with glittery rainbows and some sparkly frolicking fawns. The enchanting wetsuit made me buoyant and the buoyancy allowed me to swim and swim and swim. Not quickly mind you. But for the required half mile with tinkly little bells on. I love my miraculous wetsuit! All was not lost! The race was back on.
Almost. Sadly for me there are these pesky triathlon rules about wetsuit wearing: if the water is less than 78 degrees wetsuits are legal; if the water is between 78.1 and 84 degrees wetsuits can be worn but the wearer is not eligible for age group awards*; and if the water is more than 84.1 degrees no wetsuits at all. At the pre-race meeting it was announced that wetsuits would most likely be legal as the water temp was hovering around 81 degrees. Yay! And an unexpected bonus: the swim was shortened from 800M to 600M. Whoopee!
So I set my alarm for 5:40 and I packed my gear and I and my wetsuit went to my race. I was in transition arranging my stuff when they announced that the water temp was still 81 degrees and wetsuits would be allowed. I was happy. I milled around watching the other racers and noticing lots of wetsuits and trying not to think about when I’d have to head to the portapotty. Starting time drew near and I realized that no one else was putting on the ubiquitous wetsuits. No. One. Slowly and painfully it dawned on me that if I were to race I’d have to put on my wetsuit and if I put on my wetsuit I’d look super dorky and like a coward. And everyone would know, because a wetsuit is a hard thing to hide.
Huh. A perplexing dilemma hinging on whether I was willing to look foolish in front of 1300 women competitors. I called K. K. said, “You want to race. Wear the wetsuit.” The woman two bikes down from me told me that she was definitely wearing her wetsuit and we put them on and walked to the swim staging area together. There was no one else in a wetsuit. Just the two of us. We stuck together, making jokes and talking about how hot we were. People smiled at us, people talked to us, people looked at us. And we stood there in our wetsuits. For an hour.
In the end there were 6 people wearing wetsuits and we had to swim in the very, very, very last wave, wave 22, at the very, very, very end of the race. It wasn’t ideal. But my swim in the river was a gorgeous glide through an empty course (no getting kicked in the head!), my bike ride was a freeing swoosh on a nearly empty course, and my run was a long slog along a nearly empty road, pretty much sucking as it tends to do following more than 90 minutes of vigorous exercise. It wasn’t the race that I had imagined. And it was humiliating on some basic level. But it was good too.
Just as I was attempting to sprint through the finish line the rain came. Two sprint triathlons and one duathlon, three finishes in the pouring rain. I hugged K., ran and grabbed my bike and my soaking gear, headed to the car. As I pushed my bike to the car up a ginormous hill that is some kind of cruel joke at the end of such a race I thought about next year and smiled. I’d be back, praying for 77 degree water but also determined to have my day with the Schuylkill River sans fabulous wetsuit one of these years. Oh yes, I will.
*Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Yeah. I’m not in the running for any age group awards. Ever. Unless I do a race some day like my friend T. where she was the only one in her age group and so she won it. My kind of race actually.

in A hobby here, a hobby there | 7 Comments

terminology

It is 8:30 am. K. and I are rushing around getting ready for the day.
“Me have one ear.”
Oh crap. I so don’t have time for this right now. But here it is.
“Yes, Sweetie, you have one big ear and one little ear.”
One big ear and one little ear? Is that the best I can do? I am so freaking unprepared! Why aren’t I more prepared? K. and I should have talked about the terminology before this.
“Me have one ear, Mommy.”
Ok. Calmly try again.
“Yes, honey, everyone has things that are special about them and you have one big ear and one little ear. That is special about you. Lots of things are special about you.”
Have. Not. Thought. This. Through. Enough. How do I tell him it’s ok to be different, that it’s what’s inside that really counts, that junior high and high school will probably suck but after that things will get better, that the good people of the world will love him for who he is, in 3-year-old words?
“Me no want one ear.”
Crap. Crap crap crap crap crap. Don’t cry.
“R., you were born with one ear. You are a sweet boy. Baba and I love you very much. It’s ok to have one ear.”
In. Over. My. Head. Of course you don’t want one ear. Of course. But it’s going to be ok.
“Me no want one ear.”
“R., are you ok?”
“no.” heartrending, end-of-the-world sobbing.
“Oh sweetie, it’s ok to be sad. It’s ok…” Ad infinitum, whispered into his hair.
[If you, my wise internet pals, happen to know of a book, article, or other resource which discusses self worth in the face of physical deformity or anything along those lines, kindly point me in the right direction. I think "little ear, big ear" needs to be examined for a start.]

in Motherhood | 12 Comments

tock

Things got bad enough a few weeks ago that I was forced to take desperate measures. I decided with great reluctance to write down every single thing I did all day long to figure out where the time was going.
Ten days was all I could take. Here’s what I found out: I cook, do dishes, pick up, shuffle the children, do laundry, fold clothes, work, and exercise. My life seems terribly dull. There’s nothing on the list I can remove. The fact that the list even exists lends a terrible fatigue.
It was a pathetic end to a pathetic idea. There were no extra hours lurking behind the trips to school or the grocery store, the piles of sweet smelling clothes or magazines waiting to be read. The elusive hour did not reveal itself. I longed for a pair of x-ray glasses.
I know there are other people out there struggling alongside me. I know my therapist believes that one must nurture oneself. I know that to get one must give. I know going to bed at 9:30 doesn’t help anything including the alarm at 6:10. I know all of this. And yet my sewing machine has fluff on the needle and don’t even mention books to me or I shall laugh directly in your eye.
There is the faint hope of summer and a need to be patient. That is all.

in Life, isn't it glorious? | Comments Off

cry

“Mama, you feel better?”
“Yes, Z., I feel better.”
Two minutes go by.
“Mama, you feel better?”
“Yes, Z., I’m fine. Mama’s fine.”
2 minutes go by.
“Mama, you feel better?”
“Z., Mama is fine. I went to the doctor today for a check up. Mama wasn’t sick. I just went to make sure everything was ok, and everything was ok. The doctor told Mama that I’m fine.”
2 minutes go by.
“Mama, you feel better?”
“Z., did you go to the doctor today?’
“Yes.”
“Were you sick?”
“No.”
“Right. You weren’t sick. You just went to the doctor for a check up. The doctor said that you are fine, that everything’s good. Me too. I’m not sick. The doctor said that Mama’s fine.”
“Me go to doctor today.”
“Yes.”
“Me good girl. Me no cry.”
“You were a very good girl, Z. No crying today. Great job! You were so brave!”
“Me no cry today.”
“Right.”
“You cry.”
K. and I both start laughing.
“You’re right Z. You were a brave girl and you didn’t cry. Mama did cry.”
“Me no cry. You cry.”
I don’t feel it consciously, but the mammograms freak me out on some deeper level. We were busy today, taking Z. to the GI Guy and then having a lovely lunch and shuffling the kids to the Academy of Natural Sciences Museum so I had no time to fret about my appointment. I ran through the rain, jumped in the car, fought my way to the parking lot, ran through the rain, and got to my appointment. Checked in, got undressed, waited, had the mammograms, was deposited in the second waiting room. Fidgeted around, read old magazines, fidgeted, wrote a zillion FB updates, fidgeted, listened to the loud conversation that the one sad woman wanted everyone to hear.
For a while I went to the People With Issues Mammography Clinic (PWIMC) and one day I showed up and they sent me to the regular clinic across the street. I wasn’t happy. They didn’t read the films right away at the regular clinic. They just squashed your boobs and sent you home to wait. But eventually I got used to the regular clinic, which is why I was disconcerted the last time when they sent me back to the PWIMC. The PWIMC is way more stressful because everyone there has issues, and there are always a few women there who actively have breast cancer or are waiting for more information after having an irregular mammogram. There was a woman today (with a friend along for comfort) who looked as if she was going to burst into tears at any moment. And the loud woman who had possible tumors in 3 or 4 different body parts.
Today for some reason this all freaked me out. I tried desperately not to listen, tried to immerse myself in a People magazine from last summer, tried to FB, Peggle, txt K., ANYTHING not to think about it all. And so when I got into the car with K. and the kids and E. started whining that we didn’t have time to have the promised ice cream sundaes I started crying, hard, and K. said, “But everything was ok, right? They didn’t find anything, right?”
Z. didn’t cry. Mama did. It was a long day. I’m glad it’s over.

in Life, isn't it glorious? | Comments Off