Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Christmas Traditions: Old and New

I stopped at McGuckins on Sunday, Boulder's local hardware store with absolutely everything you could want in it, excluding fresh groceries. I'm sure every town has a store similar to it - a catch all place where you can buy housewares, green egg supplies, screws, seasonal Christmas items, art supplies, and garden tools all at one stop.

It was early. I beat the after church crowd and walked up to the outdoor Christmas Tree corral and inquired about a tree. Since Ben and I have been together, we've decorated one Charlie Brown tree and that was many years ago, in Colorado Springs. That fact hasn't stopped our assembly of ornaments. Every year we acquire more through either gifts or hand me downs and they get placed in a big box in the basement. A couple of years ago I added an entire box of fragile glass balls and funny naked lady ornaments from my grandmother's house in Hawaii. And this year I added a bunch of childhood ornaments from Seattle my mom had graciously held onto for me.

Growing up in Oregon, our entire family would make the trek out to a  Christmas Tree farm, hack down a tree and strap it to the top of our wood paneled station wagon. One year my grandmother visited from the islands and insisted on going barefoot, promptly catching pneumonia before her return flight. We saw a little more of Gammy that year and I loved every stollen moment.

Decorating was awesome. My mom would play the obligatory Christmas music while we placed ornaments as high as we could, about four feet beneath the top of the tree. Our house had vaulted wood ceilings and we could get a tall tree (8-10'). My dad would put his favorite ornaments high on the upper branches, balancing out the bottom half. The house smelled like noble fir and fresh baked sugar cookies.

This year I was determined to get a tree. I schlepped the tree home in the back of my car, dropping needles every where. After buying a stand and hacking off the lower branches, the 5' tree sat level and I turned on Christmas music. Ben was out on a run to IKEA and wouldn't be home for a couple of hours. He told me earlier he didn't have time to help so I started stringing the lights and the next thing I knew I had opened every box, revealing little treasures and kept memories.

Pineapple glass bulbs, naked lady eggs, the Grinch and Cat in the Hat. A blend of recent ornaments and old. Each ornament not in its original packaging was wrapped in butcher or tissue paper, wrinkled from years of unwrapping and then re-wrapping. Baby's first Christmas from 1978, quilted unicorns, turtle doves, Mele Kalikimaka bulb. And then, an unexpected well of grief when I came across the leprechaun hat with Bubba printed on it.

Holiday's are like that. Ticking time bombs of emotions. They're a guaranteed trip down memory lane. A way to remember previous holidays with those you love and who are no longer here. And a reminder that there's no time like the present to create new memories.

"Hey baby," a text read from Benjamin. He'd sent it 45 minutes prior. I was so involved in hanging memories from the tree, I didn't hear it. As it turns out, "Hey baby" was to tell me that he wanted to help decorate. By the time he came home, the tree topper lay crooked atop the tree, the lights blinking and the tree weighed down by memories.

He admired the tree, noticing the naked ladies first. And when I pointed out his ornaments, he couldn't remember them. Even the creepy pink elf with tracking eyes was foreign to him. It faces away like a scolded child on a lower branch. Mainly so its eyes don't freak us out. I asked him if I should un-decorate the tree so we could do it together. And he said no, but next year he's all over it. Maybe we'll go to a Christmas Tree farm and hack one down ourselves and avoid getting pneumonia.

Notice the Pink Elf on the bottom branch off to the far right. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Governor Pants

You could feel the buzz of Thanksgiving everywhere on Wednesday. I circled the parking lot and was about to give up when a spot appeared. Inside the grocery story, dads were interspersed in isles consulting lists their wives had given them with kids happily sucking on candy canes.

I stopped by a liquor store in search of my favorite winter brew: the Jolly Roger by Maritime Brewery. No such luck. But I did find a variety of other ridiculously high alcohol content beers that somehow found their way into my cart.

Then that night I baked and baked and baked. I was in charge of desert this holiday and on the menu were pumpkin and pecan pie and Ben's favorite: Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Yum, yum, and yum.

Earlier that morning I caught wind of a friend learning how to make the best pie crust in Boulder and asked to join. Turns out crust is something that's a little tricky but Jaye, one of Cari and Greg's longtime Boulder friends, was willing to share her tried and true recipe. I wrote down two pages worth of notes. And I'd happily share them with you but you're going to have to come to Boulder to get it. It is that good. So book your ticket already.

The Secret Boulder Pie Recipe.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake, Pumpkin and Pecan Pie. 

Our Thanksgiving feast was amazing. The group of friends went super traditional: smoked turkey (on the Big Green Egg), mashed and sweet potatoes, mac and cheese (with bacon!), Brussel sprouts, green bean casserole, stuffing, dinner rolls and not a single piece of salad. The group opted to skip the green stuff so we could make more room for a higher calorie count. And then there was desert - a couple of hours later, dolloped in freshly whipped cream. It was a good night to be wearing governor pants. You know - the ones that are just tight enough that if you eat too much, they prevent you from eating more.

We actually had a surgeon cut up the turkey. First you dislocate the joint and then you hack through the tendon. 

Greg working on the gravy. 

We started circling the kitchen like vultures.

Mike pointing out all of the delicious dishes: get in my belly.

A big thank you to Olivia and Mike for hosting!

Ben always tells me he's not photogenic. 

But I beg to differ. Ha! 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Many Thanks

So much to be thankful for today: the wind blowing a cool breeze and clearing out the clouds, a wind chime dinging in the background, a satiated belly from breakfast and plans for a longer mountain bike ride with Ben, Cari, and Mike before a feast this afternoon/evening with friends.

I hope you're enjoying every moment of the day and surrounded by friends and family. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, mainly because it's centered around sharing food, laughter and experiences with others.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tour of Tucson Race Report

A sea of people anxiously await the start of the 34th annual Tour of Tucson. Benjamin and I sat perched on our tandem in the second row - a position secured from winning the mixed tandem category the year before. We're still figuring things out - like if you have VIP access in the platinum corral, you don't need to get there until about 6:45 (we arrived shivering at 6am); that only Benjamin needs to wear a camelbak and I can take four bottles and that I like my scratch on the lighter side - not the syrupy consistency it turned into after four hours on the bike; and that there's always, always, always a break that forms in the first few miles of the race.

A firetruck ladder hoists this year's dedication recipient over the crowd - Denise Mueller, the fastest woman cyclist. And the countdown begins: 10, 9, 8,....3, 2, 1!!!! We are immediately surrounded by dozens of eager cyclists - some racers, but mostly recreational riders all of whom are determined to get to the first river crossing at the front of the pack in nine miles. It's super sketchy.

I'm so grateful Benjamin pilots. His years and years and years of experience in the field, navigating and negotiating the moving amoeba of the peloton, eases my mind as we zip along at speeds over 30mph. I know popping my head out to look around him will throw our balance off and I want him to be focused 100% on the road ahead so I stay tucked in, responding only to his request for more power.  The only time I really get a good look is when there's a bend in the road ahead. Otherwise I've got my head down looking at my Garmin or glancing to the side as we barrel down the road.

The thing about riding a tandem in a sea of people is that they often don't expect the caboose. They're used to the length of one bike - not two. And in the beginning I was sure someone was going to crash into us. I had one guy yell, at me, "watch where you're going!" I risked throwing Ben off by responding, "I would if I could." It wasn't until an hour or so into the ride that I felt like those around us understood just how big we were and that instead of chopping our wheel or freaking out, the best spot to be in a windy, 106 mile race is in the sweet pocket of the tandem draft.

Being on the back of the tandem is nothing short of terrifying. I close my eyes whenever I sense danger and put 100% faith in Ben's ability to navigate us through any pickles. Last night we talked about the deep sense of trust required on the tandem. It actually goes beyond trust. It's the realization that I'm okay if I die today. I'd have no regrets. We don't know when our time will be up but that's not going to stop me from doing what I love.  But for Ben - it's something different. There's no way he would ever ride on the back of the tandem. For him, it's a control thing. He doesn't like when other people drive him or are responsible for his safety or movement through space and time. He has to be in control. But I wonder - are we ever really in control?

After an hour or so of riding, we find ourselves racing to a train crossing with the hopes of catching the break who has been waylaid. The break is within reach - but our mixed tandem competition, Paul and Noreen, are in our group of riders and bridging across to the break could be suicidal. So we sit and wait and find the group facing a massive 20mph block headwind, which seems to shift against us with every turn we take.

We had one mistake going into the second crossing. I watched as Paul and Noreen drilled it to the front of the group, positioning themselves into second wheel. We didn't know we had reached the crossing area so quickly but the sandy and narrow turns leading into it were a sure sign. We lost position- drifting back to about 50th or so and then the tires sunk deep into the sand, tipping us off the bike and leaving us running. The pack was gone - and I struggled to clip in. A rock was lodged in my cleat and took some focus on it to get it out.

"Keep calm, there's no need to panic," Ben said. The rock came loose and I clipped in and we started the chase with about eight riders clinging to our wheel. Tempo on the descents, LT/VO2 on the climbs. Slowly, surely, we rejoined the group after 40 minutes of chasing. We never went into the red, never over-extended ourselves. Again, I'm so thankful for Ben's experience and knowing what it takes to be a contender.

The rest of the race was a slog. The attacks stopped and the wind increased in the last 40 miles. I remember thinking, people are getting tired... and then a crash took out five riders. We were still recovering on the back of the group and avoided the carnage. Paul and Noreen saw the opportunity to break away - shattering the field in the wind as echelons formed. We responded by coming around the group and powering to the break, only to have the entire group come back together. So we sat and waited.

And sat and waited.

And waited, and then sat some more.

The problem with going easy is that you start to notice how everything aches. Your hands, your feet, your butt, everything. But if you want to win a race, you have to be patient. You have to sit and wait.

We rounded the last few corners of the course, pulling into the finishing straight, right on Paul and Noreen's wheel. We still had 500m to go - and Ben initiated our sprint. We dumped 1800 watts, putting a gap between us and the single bikes behind, as well as Paul and Noreen. We sailed through the series of timing strips, and this time I didn't put my hands up in celebration. This time we graciously accepted the win and thanked Paul and Noreen for the fun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How Dangerous Could It Be?

It was all fun and games until...

Karting was totally my idea, or at least I pushed to make it happen.

My mom bought Ben a gift card for Unser Karting for his birthday in 2015 and it's been collecting dust in our kitchen junk drawer. Our friends Becca and Daniel agreed to get their kart on and we coordinated calendars weeks in advance.

I even tried to find my baklava or balaclava (I can never remember which one is which - one's a sock you put over your head inside your helmet and the other is a Greek pastry).

We rolled up surprised to see the parking lot full on a random Tuesday night. We paid for three rounds. The track is pretty sweet - it spans the entire third floor of a big commercial building on the corner of I-25 and Highway 36. The karts probably top out at close to 25mph, which might not sound like much but if you add in tight corners, fast moving objects, and gas exhaust fumes - you definitely have the makings of a fun race.

I was seated in third for the first round with a fast kart. I passed one guy and then saw the blue flag, letting the guy behind me pass. Then going into one of the tight hairpin turns, some guy decided to cut my inside and I slammed into the wall, hearing a crunch and feeling instant pain in my ribs.

Kart down!

And potential broken ribs. Or maybe bruised. Ouch.

For all of the bike racing and speed that I enjoy - I (KNOCK ON WOOD!) haven't been injured in a long time. A really long time. I sat out the next two rounds and took it easy. The kart was apparently fine - it went right back into rotation for the following round. Thankfully I didn't feel it too much this morning when I woke up.

And as much I would have loved to answer, "how'd you break your ribs?" by karting, I'm thankful I don't have that problem. Don't worry mom - I'll get back on that kart soon enough.

Next time I want some green and red turtles to throw at people.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book Worm

About every three weeks I head to the Boulder public library. It coincides with due dates and if I'm on top of it - I put a couple of titles on hold. I also browse the new non-fiction section like a kid in the candy shop. Scanning across the hundreds of titles, my eyes fixed on "Live Simply." The book cover was a simple design, complimented by the chapter titles: declutter, organize, spend less and live more.

Live more by spending and doing less? Yes, please.

One of my favorite things about going to the library is the drive home - I devour as much as I can at each stop light, trying to squeeze a few more words in before my eyes are focused back on the road. Tonight's traffic along 63rd meant seeing how much I could read before hitting the accelerator.

More to come on doing less and living more.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Formal vs. informal pantsuits

My pantsuit isn't that formal. Instead, it's jeans with a flannel shirt and a puffy vest.

I started reading a copy of "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg this week and it couldn't have come at a better time. Today is a big, big deal. It is the day the first female president could be named to the oval office.

And when (not if) she makes her acceptance speech, it will be for all women. Even if they didn't vote for her. It shows that women belong in leadership positions. It shows that the gender stereotypes preventing women from getting top level jobs in corporate America now have a first - someone who paved the way.

I've always been ambitious. There's a fire inside of me that burns brightly. My sophomore year of high school, I ran a campaign to become the class president and lost. I figured it was my lack of skills or popularity and that the other candidate was way more qualified than I. I didn't figure gender was part of the equation. A man won.

I worked at a flooring company and because of my strong persuasive skills and competency, was moved into a sales position and then glossed over for a managerial position when an opening came up. They gave it to a man.

I applied for an executive director position and I was more than qualified for the position. My interviews went well. I was ambitious and eager to make things happen within the organization and deflated when it was given to a man. A man who told me later that if the organization blew up and they were unable to pay him, I could take the job for less pay.  Um, thanks?

So now the fire is raging inside of me. Now I'm inspired to stand up more, to exude more confidence, to put my name in the hat and not worry about judgement and whether or not I'm liked. I'm not afraid of the backlash for debunking gender stereotypes. I'm more than happy to continue paving the way so that other women have the opportunity to be bold and become the leaders they want to be.

I think that's why I was drawn to boxing in the first place. It was something women were told they couldn't and shouldn't do. But we did it any way. And as it turns out, we were good and it was empowering. Being part of the first women's world championship was surreal. I knew I belonged.

Then there was the madison on the track. Again - women were told we couldn't and shouldn't participate. I remember a colleague on a volunteer organization said I was crazy for thinking women would be interested in doing the madison. That year we had six women's teams compete. The following year we had 10 teams at a national caliber race, outnumbering the men. I love a challenge and I love proving a stereotype wrong.

So when a woman stands atop a podium in her pantsuit - it's for all women everywhere who aspire to step into leadership roles. Be bold. Be loud. Be yourself. Be the change you want to see in the world. And wear whatever type of pantsuit you want.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Cheerleaders and Support Bras.

I'm sure we've all collected dozens of moments when the right person said the right thing at the right time. These moments help define and shape you as a human being over the years.  I've collected a few myself and wanted to share them with you.

Thank you, Austin, for giving me the following words of encouragement after doing poorly on an exam in college.
"Don't worry Jen. You just have to figure out how to study. One day everything will just click." 

Replace study with anything you're struggling with (love, work, make money, etc.). One day everything does just click. Just keep doing what you're doing and don't give up. In the meantime, enjoy the process and the journey it takes to get there. And surround yourself with positive people who encourage you every step of the way.

Thank you, Kym for encouraging me to get into coaching.
"Have you ever considered coaching? You'd be amazing at it." 

Funny - at the time I wasn't ready to hear the message. I ran into Kym at the Coaching Summit this past weekend and we had a good laugh about my refusal to acknowledge the teacher in me. I got to publicly thank her for the encouragement she gave me so many years ago.

Thank you, Mom for believing in me even when I had my doubts. I've put you through the wringer and you've always been my number one fan.

I called her crying after a track race my first year when I quit for the first time because I had no idea what I was doing. It was a post-Olympic year and the track scene in Portland, Oregon was flooded with strong contenders. During a points race, I was spit out the back and ended up quitting because I didn't know if I should keep going.
"Jennifer, look at who you're competing against! These are Olympians. They've been racing for a long time. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in there."

That pep talk would fuel my motivation to get back on track every time I encountered failure. And trust me, that happened and still happens a lot.

Thank you, Leslie for seeing the light inside of me and making it grow brighter.
"I see something rare inside of you. You've got something kid that shines brightly. Cultivate it."

Leslie pulled me aside during a Coaching Training Institute seminar and practically whispered in my ear and it fueled my fire. And while I don't know exactly what that means or how it will apply - it sparked a sense of curiosity inside of me to be on the look out for how this applies to life.

I cherish those moments of clarity and unexpected impact. My goal is to reciprocate those messages of inspiration to others in the way they were passed onto me.

Who are the people in your life that have motivated you?

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Things We Think But Do Not Say

This short interruption brought to you by a full weekend spent in Colorado Springs at the USA Cycling Coaching Summit....

Ben and I left Boulder early Friday morning to beat traffic. Kevin, my old boss and director of coaching education, gave a short welcome speech before ushering on the keynote speaker, Aaron McHugh. Aaron's recent book, "Fire Your Boss" talks about the internal journey we're all on and figuring out why you do what you do. Is it for money or are you in it because you believe in what you're doing? When's the last time you examined what you're doing and asked yourself why you're doing it?

Aaron's speech resonated with a lot of people. 150 coaches listened in - some here to expand their knowledge, some to reconnect with colleagues, and some just starting their coaching careers. His speech tied into what Alison and I were prepared to talk about later that afternoon during our presentation on Building the Business and not being afraid of failing, and failing often. That's where you learn the most.

In the waning moments before we were due to present, I panicked. It's one thing to give a speech to an audience who you don't know. It's another to stand in front of a room of your professional peers and describe how you've done things, how a turn of events landed you on stage. And while a little seed of doubt sits on your shoulder whispering in your ear, "what makes you so special?" the other shoulder sits a cheerleader..."YES! YOU BELONG HERE! LEAD!!"

I only listened to my seed of doubt once on stage and it made me buckle temporarily under pressure. I swallowed, reached for my notes and continued on, quickly forgetting my temporary glitch. Regaining composure, I started speaking from the heart and let those fears fly out the window.

I love public speaking as much as it scares me. Standing in front of an audience, delivering a message and being completely vulnerable is deeply satisfying. My hope is the message I convey while I have their attention eases their pain, helps them along in their journey and allows a deeper understanding. And it's also my fear that they don't get it. But I can't control that. As long as it touches one person, I've done my job.

As corny as this may sound (hey seed of doubt - who invited you here?), standing on stage is my one of my callings. I've known that but haven't owned it since I first discovered the thrill of having a scheduled poem reading in grade school, the anxiety that came with it in the moments before speaking and the complete relief after the performance. I know I have a ways to go to polish my delivery, to find my voice, to really hone the craft - but like writing, it's in my soul. The more I do it, the more I want to do it.

So bring on the weekly attendance at Toastmasters. Bring on signing up for more opportunities and delivering more messages. I'm practicing. I dream of being a paid professional speaker. And these baby steps are bringing me closer to that reality.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Champions are made in the off season.

It's the end of the 9th inning and the Cubs and Cleveland Indians are tied 6 - 6. A heavy rain shower fills the stadium and the grounds crew hustles to unfold a gigantic tarp that spans the infield. The commentators now have to fill 15 minutes worth of air time until the World Series commences for a 10th inning and a new champion is crowned.

Speculation, opinions, "back when I played" stories fill the air time. And one comment strikes a chord in how baseball can relate to cycling: "this is when you see who worked in the off season."


In those moments when you know no one is watching, do you complete the full effort? Do you continue to practice with focus and intent? Or do you blow off a workout, claiming that it's the off season and you don't need to push it right now.

Games, competitions, races are won and lost in the off season.

Yes, it's tempting to cut a ride short because the weather is challenging. Yes, it's tempting to drink more beers while watching the world series and eat bar food. But just remember - a champion is made a day at a time. It's a culmination of all of those little steps that separates winning from losing.

And racing is won in the off season.
Photo: Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Green Clean

I could tell something was amiss when Moonli started sneezing. Those who know the Moon-dog are familiar with his sneezes that fling snot up the walls and if you have a pair of nice pants on - forget getting two wearings out of them. If you come out of our house without snot then you didn't get a proper greeting.

But this was different. He wouldn't stop sneezing.

As soon as I left my office, I found out why. The bathrooms all smelled of chemicals.

Years ago, while cleaning the basement toilet in Seattle, I came across an abandoned bottle of toilet bowl cleaner. The moment I squirted it into the bowl, my nose immediately burned and I started sneezing. The same kind of sneezes I just witnessed Moonli having.

So, how bad are household cleaners? And will using them increase your chances of getting cancer? What household cleaners are safe?

You can read more here and here.

Did you know you can clean your home with water, baking soda, white vinegar, club soda, and lemon juice? Yes, I'm getting hippie on you.

For more information and resources on green cleaning, click here.

Do you have any green cleaning tips? Please share!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Liquid Courage Can Fuel Love

The hostess sat us in the back of the restaurant, in a booth big enough to seat eight. A waiter dropped off two large glasses of ice water and then asked us what we'd like to drink and both ordered tall beers.

We had some time to kill before the midnight show. I had already invited myself on Ben's Christmas vacation and he had agreed. Vulnerabilities aside and in B.J.'s while waiting for the opening night of Jack Ass in 3-D, is where the connection really happened.

"I don't want to seem like a stalker," he started. "But I read your blog. I went back to the beginning and read everything."

My mind raced back, thankful I hadn't posted anything crazy. But also hyper aware that what I did post was my truth. That's the thing about writing and exposing it to the world - it will be judged. And somewhere between typing those letters on the screen and hitting the publish button, you have to decide for yourself if you're okay with what ever may happen afterward.

I took a big gulp of my IPA.

"What became so apparent was just how much love you had for Ryan," he continued. "I'm envious of the love you showed for him."

Who are you? I thought. Where did you come from? I stopped asking questions and committed then and there to love him.

Somewhere in the depths of my soul, I knew that the key to loving Ben was figuring out how best to love myself. Because all relationships start within. And though my heart was broken from the loss of Ryan, figuring out how best to pick up the pieces and love myself would be reflected in the relationship I'd build with Ben.