Burn Baby Biceps Burn

Started spinning. No not in circles to get dizzy, as much fun as that sounds, but the stationary bike kind. A relatively new place called Revolution Spin opened not far from my house. For years a part of my brain told me that I should do this during the long winter between biking seasons. Didn’t do that but I did start this summer.

Began with straight forward Level l spin class. Kicked my butt!! Breathing heavy from minute 1 through minute 40. After a few times I wanted more pain. Fortunately they have hour-long spin and stretch and core and spin and strength classes. Two days after the spina and core, my stomach muscles wailed in pain. I thought no class could be worse. Then I did spin and strength.

Both classes are taught by Tyrone, an ex-Marine who does an excellent job of motivating through a combination of encouragement and embarrassment. He drives the 40 minute spin extra hard since we are not getting a full hour of that. I wait until long after class for my breath to catch up. But then on to the 20 minutes of free weights. Not high numbers of pounds but very high numbers of reps. Until you feel the burn and then your burn burns.

Admittedly,  weights are a small part of my already minimal workout routine. I can go weeks, even months without touching weights. That meant that the gap between this intense workout and my readiness for it was off the charts. And yet I pushed as hard as I could.

Later that day I felt a bit sore but that’s good right? Let’s call that Day Zero. Day One my biceps screamed with pain. They throbbed the whole day. I could barely lift a fork. Day Two was actually worse. The pain level held while my arms were stuck at a 45 degree angle.  Any attempt to straighten them out caused waves of sharp and intense pain through my arms.

This lasted all through Day 5. Yes 5.  I am not the most fun, upbeat guy to start with. When in pain, serious pain, I make Attila the Hun seem like a sweetheart.  5 friggin’ days. Slowly I finally regained use of my arms. 

Yes I will probably take this class again. I will take the time to prepare by touching weights in advance…and have a morphine drip on call.

Help From Above

No not that high above. I am not that religious a guy. Let me explain.

Snowmagedon: Day Two. Two to three feet of heavy snow on the ground. Get up early (reasonably) and get in 30 minutes of shoveling before a day of work calls commences. Just enough time to shovel my way out the back and to clean off the stairs by the front door.

Late afternoon and work finally pauses. My wife has partially shoveled the walk but it has snowed since the morning and most of what I had done was covered with 4 more inches. I know that I need at least a shovel-wide path the length of the house and then I have to tackle the snow in the alley. Why clear the alley you ask? Because our garage faces the alley and with a small car with little clearance either the alley snow goes or I do not get to work tomorrow.

The length of the house takes an hour. I am cold and wet, tired and my back is killing me. Yet the alley awaits. The city plows do not even do a first pass of the street in front of my house until 4 pm. That pass clears one lane down the middle of the street. It also leaves a snow bank four feet high and 5 feet from the end of the alley. My driveway is another 15 feet behind that. The math is far too complicated for me but I estimate approximately one million cubic feet of snow needs to be moved if my car is to be set free. I regret letting my teenage son, wait make that my recently turned 20-year-old son, go away to college when he could be doing this instead of me.

I hold out little hope that I can clear all this but it is just me and the snow and I have little choice but to try. Away I go. As I work, another snowplow passes, widening the path on the street but moving that snow in front of my alley. Damn. Keep shoveling, just keep shoveling. I feel like those people on The Biggest Loser. The trainers are in their faces, urging them on to work until they drop. I wish I had a trainer. I would hand him my extra shovel.

But wait, help comes from above. O.K. not really above but the height of a truck seat. More specifically a snow plow seat. The driver sees my plight. Now I know he probably has several more hours of work and has been going at it since early morning. He just want to go home. And yet…

I am not sure but I believe that he catches my eye. At first he just clears a wider path in the street but even that shortens the distance I need to remove snow. Then he backs up. Pushes more snow away from the alley. He backs up again. He points toward my garage as if to say “is that one yours?”  I nod. I am the house on the corner so the one closest to the street. He turns off the street and plows through the alley. Not once, not twice but three times. He gives me a thumbs up . I nod and say thank you. And then like the Lone Ranger he heads off into the sunset.

This maneuver helps only me. No other car will be able to get through the pile of snow he leaves in the middle of the alley. Even I have another 40 minutes of shoveling to clear the snow he had to leave up against my garage, However, without this gesture of kindness I would realistically never finished. I complete my second hour of moving heavy snow from one place to another with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

Every once in a while someone does something nice that makes your life easier. I will find a way to pass this forward.


My first real blog post about 4 years ago described my first time playing Bunco. At the time I had no idea what Bunco was or if I would enjoy it. I did. Immensely.

So we were very happy to be invited once again shortly before New Years day to rejoin the festivities.

What makes this night so fun? First it is a family and friends night. The hosts are a family of 10.  Add fiends of all ages to the mix, from the youngest at 7 to someone in their 60s or 70s (I was too polite to ask). It is a game anyone can play. The action is fast and the rewards are both immediate (a game typically lasts 2 – 5 minutes) and long-lasting (we play 30 games in an evening).

During the course of the evening you get to meet and interact with most of the players. In Bunco, the winning team moves to a higher table.  Then a couple of times during the event we stop for food and drink. At the end there are “fabulous” prizes.

Tom, one of the hosts and the master of ceremonies, gives fun and funny prizes to the best and the worst of the night,. This was a big night for me.  I not only rolled my first three Buncos ever, I did 2 in one game. My partner and I won for highest scoring game of the night. My prize? An ant farm. Unfortunately my wife refuses to let me mail away for the ants!

I have no idea whether other places where Bunco is played are as warm, inviting and entertaining as where I play. I hope so.

If you ever want to have lots of people in a house at the same time doing something low-key, embracing and fun…Bunco is the game for you.

Government Bureaucracy Purgatory

It was time to renew my driver’s license. In fact I went last Monday, four days before it would expire.  I was going to be out-of-town for two of those days.  Now it was urgent. I had to take time away from work despite the pile of work that needed to get done before the end of the day.

Oh, and I had to take the written test. I needed to know the rules of the road. The Illinois rules of the road pamphlet is over 100 pages long. There are some items that I agree everyone should know and a refresher every few years is a good idea.  First one needs to know a myriad of distances by which you must take action, such as how far in advance of a corner to signal a turn (in a residential area or country road – the answers are different), stopping before a railroad crossing, etc. Then you need to know all of the signs. These fall into the “you should know this” category. But then there are the things I do not need to know about, such as where it is permitted to have car seats for infants (mine is 19), things about motorcycles (which I do not drive) and other arcane pieces of information. I had no time to have to take this test a second time. I studied for a couple of hours and prayed my memory would hold out.

So in I walk. I am stressed about the time this will take and  whether I will pass the test. I go to one of the suburban Department Of  Motor Vehicles locations because from experience and urban legend I know that doing this at a  Chicago one would take much longer. Still I am not prepared for a process that mirrors an old factory assembly line. A gauntlet of five stations must be run in order to obtain a license.

First is the line to get in. There is a triage station. A sleepy middle age to old man takes your forms and directs you to the next counter. You get a slip with a letter and three numbers. I am not sure why but for a few people in the line before me this process takes several minutes.

Then wait in some hard plastic chairs to be called by one of ten people manning the next station. After several more minutes I give my number and forms to the guy who looks up my name on the computer. I answer “no” to questions for which a yes answer would presumably bring my quest to a dead stop. Do I take any drugs or have any diseases  that would hinder my ability to drive? (No, I can drive while quite high thank you. Does anyone ever answer Yes to these questions?) I also take a visual exam at this station. At least something useful to weed out those that should not be driving.

On to the cashier. Like in a bad movie, the cashier needs to pause and count money and file some forms just as it becomes my turn in line. More waiting. I  pay and  get my exam. 20 multiple choice questions and I need to identify fifteen signs (No, the words are not written on the pictures of the signs. That would make it too easy to know which is the “Stop” sign.)

Bottom line is that I pass. Fortunately one only needs to answer 80% of the questions correctly.

On to the picture-taking. First step. Wait. Next step have picture taken. Third step. Wait. Last step take your license and run.

Total time, one hour twenty minutes that I did not have that day. Could have been worse. Purgatory, not hell.

Its Over

What do I mean by over? I mean:

Main Entry: over
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: accomplished
Synonyms: ancient history, at an end, by, bygone, closed, completed, concluded, done, done with, ended, finished, gone, past, settled, up

High School. Its over.  The last day of classes was yesterday. The last high school baseball game was two days ago. The only thing left is the ceremony in a week. My son D left to spend his first post HS weekend at his college to be. Its over.

Did I know that this day was coming? Sure. A part of me knew this was coming on that day 14.5 years ago when I got married and became an instant parent. There is the key for me, the word parent. Being a parent has been a big part of who I am and what I enjoy. Yeah, yeah. I know that I have not stopped being a parent and there is much more life to live, yada, yada yada. Sure I know that what it means to parent a “child” has been changing rapidly over the last four years…but still.

This is the official beginning of that next phase in my life…oh yeah and in his. This is the Memorial day kick-off of Summer or maybe more appropiately the Labor Day kick-off of Fall. I am not ever ready for Fall especially knowing that Winter comes next.

It would be different if there were more still at home. That way he would just be the first instead of the first and last. Yes this is about  holding onto the past instead of  embracing the future. So what. Indulge me.

I worry about how well I have prepared him for this next step. Being me, it is easy to see every weakness, seeing the strengths comes harder for me.  I know it is time to let him fly. I will be there for him if he needs it. Who will be there for me?

OK. I am getting maudlin. More imprtantly, I should either find a story line  or stop for now. I choose the latter.

Its over.

I was thinking of going out with some weepy exit matching my mood. Then I remembered the way I felt when high school ended.

Happy Diwali 2008

Happy Diwali can be far more than a salutation to recognize this Indian (Hindu, Jain, and Sikhs) festival of lights. At the Patel home last Saturday night Happy Diwali was a state of mind, a shared consciousness, an atmosphere, a reality, a command.

I first learned of Diwali last year upon receiving an e-card. I did some modest research.  One can, and by all means should, learn the basics of Diwali here.

My focus this year is not on an understanding of what Diwali means to hundreds of millions around the world. This year my focus is on the 50 or so gathered at the home of Ami and Bhavesh. My wife and I were honored to be two of the few non-Hindus at this affair. I love to be immersed in and observe different cultures. This heightened my sense of anticipation, in fact all my senses, and I was not to be disappointed.

Let’s start with the the sense of sight. (I am excluding comments of this gorgeous house since that has little to do with Diwali and I will save that for my freelance article in Better Homes and Gardens.)

The first sights that captivate the eyes are the colors and flows of the Saris. Most of the women were in traditional dress. A Sari is one of the most beautiful items of clothing a woman can wear. Each one on display that night was distinct. The colors were dramatically bright. This was in contrast with the traditional male dress which was distinguished but drab. The women definitely stand out. Saris wrap around the woman seductively. The men’s garb hung straight. Check here for a demonstration of traditional Indian dress by our friends Frank and Sheryl.

The next sense to be engaged was taste. Appetisers aplenty but be careful, many had a surprising hot kick. The dinner was served buffet style. I have rarely eaten Indian food and had no idea what I was smelling and gazing at. Fortunately one of the guests noticed our predicament and while carrying his 4 month old girl gave us a tour of the food and explained what everything was. What it was was delicious. That much translates across all languages.

Speaking of language one heard more than English spoken. But in all cases the conversation was engaging. First, this was my first opportunity to meet Frank’s wife Sheryl. I had heard many good things about her and found them to be true. Over dinner we met a woman now living in the Village in NY. She shared stories of running into famous people on the street. We talked of growing up, work life, what we will do if the economy continues to tank, and of unexpected house guests.

Then, after dessert was served, singing and dancing broke out. First an elder woman sang a few traditional Hindu hymns. On one level they reminded me of some of the Hebrew prayers in terms of cadence and tone. I suspect there is commonality across many religious singing. Then one of the uncles sang for much of the rest of the night. As he described them they were a combination of the old and the new. He would discuss some of them in English. One was about being in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future. Love what you are doing right now. Very different than most Western points of view.

After some cajoling, the dancing began with one teenage girl doing a vigorous traditional dance. The hip, arm and hand movements seem to be what makes the style particularly Indian. Eventually more people came out to dance. Soon it was hard not to since someone was either gently pulling you out of your chair or if you were standing on the periphery a hand on your back would firmly nudge you into the circle of dancers.

I eventually caught on to the fact that many of the songs dances were straight out of Bollywood. I have yet to see a Bollywood feature film but that is now definitely in my future. Some of the music seemed to have a bit of an American flavor. At one point I could have sworn that there were strains of rockabilly intertwined in one of the songs. Sure enough, we were told that in the 1960s Bollywood integrated some of the American music and dance of the times.

I started writing about Happy Diwali. Happy was these people. All ages singing and dancing, having a grand time and making sure that you were having one too.

I cannot wait until next year. And next year we will be dressed to blend in with the crowd.






Life Goes On

After a too short period I went back to work.  It was time. I thought I was ready. I kinda was.

It is true that for the living life goes on. I had much support from my wife, son and lots of friends who continued to send cards and notes and to call. All of it thoughtful, sincere, beautiful and much appreciated.

Then there are the people I know but am not friends with.  A few demonstrated heartfelt feelings. One woman who I converse with regularly send a very nice card and gave me a hug when I got back and you could tell she cared. The other extreme were the few people for whom saying, “I am sorry for your loss” was purely a contrived politeness they felt they needed to convey. One did not even look me in the eye as he quickly moved passed me and went sorryforyourloss.

Most fell in the middle. Wanted to say something to a coworker who they are not good friends with. This was OK except that I was not as ready to tell the story of my Mom’s illness and death 20 times on Monday. Boy, people like details. Then they like to tell you about how someone they knew dies. It amazes me how insensitive people can be or at least unsensitive (not that that is a word). Since we just finished the period where I and other Jews are to attone for their sins let it be said that I fall into this category more often than I should.

Beyond all the Mom stuff this was a fairly regular week–if a day of fasting can be considered regular. Work was intense and long. I complained about the lack of underskilled help, spent hours under severe pressure, came home and collapsed. The week ended well as I learned that I had won a new client that I have been chasing for awhile and I attended Senior Night at D’s last home soccer game. The seniors and their parents were introduced in front of the fans.  D played a great game. I am very proud of what he has accomplished as a student athlete.

On to the first weekend and the second week of the rest of my life.

100 Miles Redux

The Cubs and I have made history this weekend. For the first time in 100 years the Cubs have made the post-season 2 years in a row. For the first time 52 years I have completed 100 mile rides in consecutive years. The big difference being that they have been trying for each of the past 100 years and I have been doing this for three.

If you read this regularly you know the degree of trepidation I had regarding this ride. The summer had too many other distractions for me to ride as much as last year. I felt physically, mentally and emotionally unprepared. However, if one can say nothing else about me it can be said that I am determined and a plugger. With the support of my wife and encouragement from buddy Frank and others, I could not not try.

When I left this morning the temps were cool but not cold yet it was overcast and looked as if it would rain. At times we rode though fog. And yet my biggest fear on these rides is always the wind on the ride back. The weather gods cooperated in a big way. It stayed pleasently cool, never rained and most or the wind was on the first half of the ride. I almost yelped with joy as we took the first turn south and there was barely a breeze.

Key stats

 107.9 miles (not counting the 5 mile round trip from my house.)

Ride time: 6 hours 53 minutes

Total time with rest stops (4) and stop lights ( a gazillion): 8 hours 27 minutes

Average speed while riding: 16.02 mph

Memories of Boston

I was in Boston today. Like so many business trips, I landed late morning, had meetings and was out by early evening. Other than lunch at Legal Seafood I had no opportunity to do anything Bostonian.

Memories of Boston for me are few and very far between. In addition to today, I spent a weekend there 22 years ago, had another one day business meeting and spent two days at a conference 4 or 5 years ago. I want to come back and spend at least a long weekend here with my wife. And I have got to get into Fenway one day.

Though few, the memories I have are strong. During the weekend long, long ago, I played typical tourist. Spent much of a day hanging out at Faneuil Hall. In addition to walking through the market (I love places like that) I watched a guy making his living juggling. He was quite entertaining. I also walked along Beacon Hill, marveling at the architecture of the homes and wondering how many lifetimes of working I would need to do to buy one. I did part of the freedom walk. And I checked out Harvard. The coolest thing about that day was that Harvard was honoring Corazon Aquino who had recently taken over as President of The Philippines and a long period of dictatorship. I caught a glimpse of her walking out of a building after her lecture. I have picture of all of this, including a shot of Cory. I may have to dig them out of the three boxes of pictures I have waiting to be filed so I can share them on-line. Unfortunately I have a close up of the juggler and only a very distant shot of Ms. Aquino.

The second memory of Boston was one night of the conference I attended. My friends Frank, Sarah and Shelly were there. We met up with a neighbor of Frank’s from Philly who was living in Boston. What started as an ordinary day became one of those semi-magical, serendipitous nights of good friends sharing great conversation. The restaurant was a typical Italian place with lots of character. I can’t remember what we talked about but the feeling of friendship, even with this woman I had never met nor seen since, the humor, wit, passion, and laughter are all there. After dinner we went across the street to this cool, little desert place. As we came out it began to rain and we shared too few umbrellas and jackets each one wanting the other to have one.

Boston offers a fine combination of history, architecture, universities, good food and interesting neighborhoods. A muti-faceted city and you know how much I love facets. Time to go back and create more memories.

When Is A Mile Not A Mile?

A mile always is 1760 yards or 5,280 feet.

I have known the distance of the mile since childhood. During my youth the mile was the glamour race. Roger Bannister first broke the magic 4 minute mark On May 6, 1954 with a time of 3:59.4. From that moment on, people have been striving to conquer the mile.

Fast forward 54 years from Sir Roger’s historic achievement. For the last five summers, I too have been striving to conquer the mile. One mile at at time, typically 50 + of them on a Sunday morning. On a good day energy flows through my body into my legs and they make revolution after revolution. I do not glide through each mile or passively cycle. I take the initiative. I apply force. That mile is mine.

Over a course of 50 miles some miles some are covered faster than others. You can’t, I can’t, sprint 50 miles. But each on is taken. One by one. That is how a good day works.

Typically by the end of August they are all good riding days. Not this year. Last week i was dead from the moment I left the house. Today felt decent for the first have of the ride and then lost it completely. None of the last 25 mile were conquered. They were ridden, after all I had to get home, but the experience was mentally and physically gruesome.

I can’t say why my riding has deteriorated. I suspect the demands of this summer are getting to me.

So let’s get philosophical for a moment. How do you know when to “be mentally tough and work through it” vs. “listen to your body”? Both of these are reasonable approaches to a situation and I am sure that I can find self-help books to promote one philosophy or the other.  Do winners always go for it? Are people in touch with their needs more effective because they play within themselves?

The practical application for me is that four Sundays from today is the North Shore Century. This is the one I rode last year. I started the summer with a goal–beat last year’s time by 30 minutes. I did not anticipate a sick Mom or a horrendous work schedule and the exponentially greater strain when these two things are combined with all of life’s other irritations. Do I go for it even knowing I am not near the conditioning of last year? Is “going for it no matter what” the sign of a winner? What does it say about me if I do not try.

I realize that the downside of starting and not finishing the ride is relatively small. I am guessing that I can get someone to pick me up. But if over the next three weekends I am still unable to complete a solid 50 why go for 100?

For the moment I am taking inspiration not from world class byciclists but from Sir Roger. The year he broke 4 minutes he had already started Med school and could train for less than an hour per day. There is still hope for me.

A mile is not a mile when you cannot attack it the way that you can. A 5+ minute mile is not the same as one ridden in 4 minutes or less. That is when a mile is not a mile.