Just get on the bike

The night before I was about to make good on my pledge to do a day of RAGBRAI, I was a ball of nerves. I love to ride my bike around town but in all honesty, I’m not a super confident cyclist. I still have a lot (everything!) to learn about how my bike works, and I get nervous taking my hands off the handlebars to signal. I wear gym shoes instead of clip-ins. The extent of my “training” this summer has been a few rides from our neighborhood through downtown, commuting  a mile (uphill both ways) to work, and one women’s cycling night with the Collective last week to get a porkchop and beer.  But damnit, I wanted to go a little bit more than I was scared to go.

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This winter when we learned Leon, Iowa would be a RAGBRAI overnight town, I vowed this would be my year to finally cross a day of riding off my bucket list.

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RAGBRAI week is endless logistics for our family, because for the past few years Joe’s been working and riding different portions. It can get to be a headache, but Joe would be able to drop me off in Creston early in the morning and then pick me up in Leon pretty easily. The Cash farm where Joe’s family holds its reunions is just a few miles down gravel roads from there, and it would be an easy spot to camp and for Joe to hang with the kids while I was on my ride. Plus, after a long day pedaling country highways, this is the kind of sunset you dream about:
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For me, a RAGBRAI day was a symbolic finish line in being the mom of a tiny baby. Eileen turns one in October, but I decided that I’d like to be done nursing  by late July. The ride was going to be a chance to challenge myself and celebrate the strength of my body. (Despite not training, the fact that I’d experienced unmedicated childbirth just nine months before makes any endurance activity seem possible.) My body still felt foreign to me after my second child and I know that setting goals and logging miles is a way for me to get comfortable in my own skin again. And, sweetly, the kiddos made a literal finish line at the farm entrance.

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What surprised me the most was that once I got over the fact that I was setting out on the longest ride of my life, the SOCIAL aspect of RAGBRAI really freaked me out. I had originally thought my sister-in-law would ride with me, but that didn’t work out. I know a lot of people who would be riding, but the idea of being the 11th wheel or dragging down people who would be faster than me was mortifying. I’d much rather travel at my own pace and be in my own head than worry about small talk and someone else’s timetable. (Hardcore ENFP vibes. At least I know myself!) I actually kind of like the feeling of being alone in a big crowd, especially moving along toward the same goal. In ways, RAGBRAI kind of reminded me of walking the Camino through the tiny towns in northern Spain.

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Tuesday morning, we got up before dawn and loaded up my bike and drove to Creston. I lucked out with not-too-hot late July weather, no trouble with my bike or body and truly enjoyed the roller coaster hills and a little bit of solitude. A highlight was randomly meeting up with Kerri, one of Joe’s INHF co-workers, in Mt. Ayr and eating pie with her crew and listening to Damon Dotson under a tree in the town square.

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I averaged about 10 miles an hour, including stops, but waited until the end to crack open a beer, because as a solo newbie, that felt like the best approach for me.

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Kerri and I are working with a group on putting together an October women’s ride that benefiting the Des Moines Bicycle Collective women’s programs, so if anything that I just wrote resonated with you — I’d love for you to participate! It will be October 1 and go from Des Moines to Ankeny and back , with activities that empower female cyclists of all abilities. If you’re interested and scared because a) you don’t know a ton about bikes b) you don’t get in many miles or c) you can’t find a friend to ride with you, it boils down to this: Just get on the bike! You’ll be glad you did.

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What I’m into

Argh. This morning, with its thunderstorms and pancakes held so much promise for a chill, productive-but-lazy day. And by that I mean the kind of day when you get your house picked up while the kids nap and you hum a little to yourself in the process. Those are glorious. I wrote poems in my mind while I walked the dog, and watched a bit of CBS Sunday Morning and then geared myself up for all of the peaceful cleaning and then… no napping. Teething and whining and Joe and I taking turns dealing with that noise and loads – neigh, mountains – of laundry. Real life. I was a little bit frustrated that things didn’t stack up like I’d imagined, but our children seem to like to make us pay for the previous day’s fun. Yesterday morning was spend out at the Farmer’s Market and riding bikes.

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I really can’t complain. I did finally manage the excavation to reveal the carpet on my side of the bed, which was about three layers of clothes thick. My discarded garments become like sedimentary rock. I am one of those people who cannot hang something back up, or put it in a drawer or hamper. I pile. I pile on piles. Then, the dog makes a bed out of the piles and I realize: This is why I can’t have nice things.

The bright spot of the day was meeting up with some new neighbors and friends for gelato at Chocolaterie Stam because I won a “Gelato Rendezvous” party in a drawing and wanted to make good on the “We should hang out!” promise we made seven months ago when we met at the caucuses.

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It was a nice break and then Emmett signaled it was over by tripping and falling and bawling and then dropping an entire box of chocolates on the ground because, again, Real Life.

Speaking of, last weekend after our camping trip, we had about two hours to turn around and re-pack to go to a baby shower in Omaha. We hit out marks and got about 20 minutes out of town before the VW started issuing these scary beeps and warnings to STOP THE VEHICLE. So, we limped it back home, repacked into the Subaru and made it to Omaha in time. And now, we’re shopping for a van. Real. Life. We’ll be selling our VW, but I came to the horrible realization that it’s probably worth half of what the awesome electric assist Yuba we drooled over at the Farmer’s Market goes for. If you are in the market for a manual 2003 Passat wagon, holler at me.

I’m heading into a few stressful weeks of work events and feeling pretty anxious about it, so I downloaded “How to Be a Person in the World” after reading this interview  and just started it for a little “me time” to round out the weekend. It’s already putting me in the right mindset. Her advice is funny, and real and vulnerable.

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I need to read her essay about dirty laundry. (Not, like, embarrassing/horrible secrets, but the real deal.)

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Camping with a toddler and baby

We did an overnight camping trip with 10 kids under 4 and lived to blog about it.

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Really, there are no huge life-hacks to share except that if you like camping and you have a baby and a toddler, you can still go camping. It just might look a little bit different and be a little bit exhausting, but that’s life right now, so at least you’ll have s’mores.

Instead of loading up hiking backpacks and bringing our little orange Marmot tent, we crammed half of our house into the car (air mattress, check! little training potty, check! way too much stuff but not enough flashlights, check!) and headed the 45 minutes to Ledges State Park to pitch a ginormous forest dwelling (Coleman Evanston).

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One of the dads talked to the ranger and was able to get us the youth camp site. That way, we could pitch our tents in a big, grassy semi-circle and share a fire pit in a spot that was slightly removed. The nature activity was a creek walk and the kids had a ball splashing around together – especially where the creek flows over the road and they’d get soaked by passing cars.

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Eileen enjoyed herself, too, and I had to snap a backpack selfie, or twenty.

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We did super simple meat & potato “hobo dinners” (of which I’m pretty sure Emmett ate 3 bites) but one of the other families managed salmon foil packet dinners that looked pretty impressive.

Sleep in our house has been generally elusive, and although we set up the pack n’ play, Eileen and I just snuggled on the ground while somehow Emmett and Joe wound up sharing the air mattress. (I knew that’s how it would shake out!)

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One tip that applies for camping or any night activity with a bunch of kids running around: Keep track of them with glow-stick necklaces/bracelets.

Don’t feel like you’re ready for tent camping with tiny people? Pammel State Park in Madison County has two yurts! We talked about doing that and might in a future year. The only bummer is you can’t put up extra tents in the yurt area. Jester Park is also a good local option, and their Natural Playscape is a fun little activity.

 

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Tiny undies

It’s a battle of wills around our house lately, with one potty training kid who inherited his mom’s stubborn streak and another teether who lets you know with all her lung-power her desire to stay up late and chill like her dad. I’m whispering “this is a phase” to myself over and over and over and knowing that some day, I will sleep again and won’t be lugging a travel potty with me everywhere.

Some. Fine. Day.

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There is really no good time in our go-go-go schedule to start potty training, but after we went to our little triplet friends’ third birthday party and I noticed all three of them in undies, it was settled. The next day, we were ditching the diapers and rolling up the carpets. This was our third attempt, so I already had a jar of gummy worms, stickers for a chart and a bunch of tiny boy undies. This time, I had the will and there’s no looking back. We did a couple days of setting alarms and making him try every 10 minutes or so, and it gave us some momentum to commit.

Thankfully, our summer babysitter has potty trained before, and got into it, too. It’s definitely going to be a long, accident-prone road, but I’m trying not to make potty training turn us into total shut-ins and only resorting to pull-ups at night, for nap and during wedding receptions when I want to keep my sanity. Emmett may have further “christened” a Church floor in Indiana this weekend. This photo is after our rest stop pee-s negotiations on the way up. We both got what we wanted, eventually. The struggle, though. Our second week has been way harder because we’ve been out of a routine.

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Thankfully, Emmett did NOT pee at the Vaudeville Mews tonight, when I took him to see the ridiculous band Koo Koo Kanga Roo (mostly because my friend Danny’s band MAIDS was opening and I can really only go to his all-ages, 6:30 p.m. shows!) Emmett ran around in circles and ate ice out of a red solo cup and then barely fought bedtime, so I’d call it a win.

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Let’s hope that’s the first and last time I bring a potty seat to the Mews, although honestly those bathrooms are so scuzzy, I’d probably prefer the Baby Bjorn. Right?

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Also, completely unrelated but I started “The Girls” by Emma Cline on our car ride home from Indiana and it’s been a good, quick read so far. One of those summer books everyone’s packing for vacation.

 

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What I’m into: Say Cheese

Plotting: So. Excited. I just signed up to volunteer at the American Cheese Society Festival of Cheese, which is being held in Des Moines next month. All volunteers receive an official volunteer t-shirt and complimentary entry to the Festival of Cheese, which kind of sounds like my ticket to heaven.

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Reading: Our latest book club pick, Tuesday Nights in 1980, which is super good, but just got intense! (I started this post as a break from it for a minute.) It’s bouncing between connected characters and set in New York at the turn of 1980 (at least so far) and big into the art scene at the time.

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Sipping: Iced Mocha from Chocolaterie Stam. I’ve been trying to walk to my meetings that are in the Ingersoll area (both to walk the walkability talk and get some exercise), but today was so darn hot, I felt the need to reward myself post-lunch. When I stopped in, I was reminded of their sweet Friday night concert series on their dreamy side patio. I think the concerts all start at 7 p.m. – they had a flyer in the store with bands listed.

Scrolling: Through pictures from Emmett’s third birthday, which we celebrated with a trip to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago on Monday. Gotta get some mileage out of that astronaut Halloween costume!

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We were at my mom’s for a weekend bridal shower for a high school friend and family birthday party, and Joe realized the Adler and Museum of Science and Industry both offer reciprocal memberships with our Science Center of Iowa family pass.

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We figured a train ride into the city would be fun — and it was! We walked the easy three miles to the museum along the lake and past Buckingham Fountain and then took the 130 city bus straight back to Union Station after lunch.

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Pretty much the best day ever for a freshly minted three year old, and not too shabby for the adults and Eileen, either.

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Because Emmett’s third birthday also equals 1,095 days of parenting, a few bonus parenting links I’ve enjoyed lately:

Laughed out loud at this: An Open Letter to the Female Hat-Wearing Dog From “Go Dog, Go” via The Ugly Volvo, which is a hilarious blog I always forget to check.

Tips for Building a home your kids want to come home to. “Happy starts now.”

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Cherry pits and buried fish

Sunday dinner al fresco – grilled potato and blueberries and steak cut into pieces my toddler boy can pinch between his fingers, but mostly avoid in favor of the bowl of cherries in the center of the table.

He stands on the wobbly chair and takes one at a time, offers the shiny fruit to me. First, I bite the cherry in half. I carefully remove the pit and place the splayed cherry on his plate. He devours one after another before he tries to remove the stone himself – working his tongue around the pit, celebrating as he spits it out and swallows the rest. His face and shirt are smeared with the burgundy juice, his chiclet teeth showing pink tinted as he smiles.

Earlier this afternoon, beyond the brick patio, under the hostas, we’d buried his goldfish. The fish had been a second birthday present and my boy would turn three the next week. The fish had fooled us, making a long drama of his death – playing possum for weeks until ‘tap’ ‘tap’ he’d squiggle back to swimming shape. “Just kiddin’, mom!”

But today, our sweet fish had swum his last. As we dug the small hole for the garden grave, I remembered the date. Thirteen years exactly since my father died. My father, a lover of goldfish. I’d patted the earth and tried to imagine our pet departing as a messenger — full of stories of a boy whose hazel, long-lashed eyes reflected into his tank days that dance between imagination and discovery and skinned knees and hot wheel cars and dirt piles and pancake breakfasts and rhymes and books and baby sisters and bike rides. Days my dad will never see.

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I’d gifted this fish to bring joy, of course, but part of me also hoping that he would be the first whisper of death, before my son could know a loss so deep. We buried that fish, and I cried, and my son — who everyday grows before my eyes but astonishes me still — consoled me with the earnestness of someone who believes his pet will someday swim again.

Reach for another cherry and let the juice run down your chin.

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What I’m Into: Shoes, tunes & wheels

My semi-regular collection of things I’ve been into lately:

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Blind Pilot, one of my favorite bands, has a new album coming out this summer! The first in five years, and NPR had a preview of one of the tracks. Joe and I danced to their “3 Rounds and a Sound” as our first wedding dance.

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I’m still trying to rebuild my shoe collection since my feet grew, and I scored a major deal ($30!) in the fabulous Von Maur back room on these crazy comfortable Rockport peep toe pumps. (They have adidas technology in them.) I wore them two days in a row at a conference at the University of Iowa and they stood up to a bunch of walking.

If you’re looking for a good short story, I got goosebumps reading Lauren Groff’s “The Midnight Zone” in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Full-text, with audio of the author reading, online. An excerpt:

The wind rose again and it had personality; it was in a sharpish, meanish mood. It rubbed itself against the little cabin and played at the corners and broke sticks off the trees and tossed them at the roof so they jigged down like creatures with strange and scrabbling claws. The wind rustled its endless body against the door.

The story has this haunting image illustrating it, and when I went to read it and told Joe the title, he said Emmett had asked him to read him “The Midnight Zone,” and I broke out into a cold sweat, because I couldn’t remember telling him the title of the story. I probably did, but I made Joe get out of bed and make sure Emmett was still there because I was so spooked. I did not like Groff’s bestseller, “Fates & Furies” when I read it for book club, but did really like this.

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We started yesterday with a few spins around the Heritage Carousel. Three bucks for a punch card worth seven kids rides is such a sweet little summer treat. I thought going to the park would wear the kids out and give me some good naps while Joe was busy with a work commitment. It. Did. Not.

Once the sweet beasts were finally in bed for the night, Joe and I watched some more of the Bloodline second season on Netflix. Kyle Chandler is such a babe-dad.

I also had a story in Saturday’s Des Moines Register about a couple of women I met at the Farmer’s Market a few weeks back. They started a women’s cycling line called Velorosa. Read it here.

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I’m thinking I should try out their Monday night ride sometime.

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