Pausing

For the first time since I started this blog in August 2008 I skipped one of my monthly masthead updates (the March 2011 masthead). I won’t describe what this does to my obsessive-compulsive nature; I had to volitionally exhale, meditate on the true things that matter in life, and let. it. go. I traded in that masthead — and many, many other things — for doctoral candidacy. Not a bad trade off. The process of creating a dissertation prospectus, presenting the proposal to my committee, and getting approval for the project was the hardest step thus far in my PhD experience, and I will even go so far to say that it was one of the more challenging feats in my life. By the grace of God, I have finished that leg of the race.

Because most things in life can be analogized to triathlons, I think about the finish trusses that some races have for each triathlon leg.

At this point in the race, there is no medal for your neck and no formal finisher’s ceremony. But there is celebration. Family and friends congregate at these finishes. Triathletes smile as they pass through (you don’t always see the smile through pain-filled grimaces or tears, but it’s there). Whatever fear that was associated with that leg has been overcome and, whether the greatest challenge lies ahead or not, there is an unmistakable opportunity to celebrate.

Similar instances occur in life, so take them. Take those opportunities to celebrate the smaller victories along the journey, especially if the greatest challenge lies ahead. Even if it is an ever so brief moment allotted to pause, put hands on knees, take a few recovery breaths, and say “Wow, I did it!” before turning full stride again, soaking in the victory helps to fuel us for the legs that lie ahead.

My PhD program is a pentathlon. The dissertation proposal was the 4th leg. There was no blue inflatable finish truss for this stage (though one would be a welcome addition to the department), but seeing my committee’s signatures on the doctoral candidate form was a rite of passage in itself. So I celebrated, albeit briefly, and am already full stride in the final leg of the program.

The April masthead — what I really wanted to write about in the first place — is an example of nature doing its own celebrating as it survived the winter leg and welcomes spring. The trees with these blooms line the streets of our neighborhood and they humbly proclaim, “Wow, we did it!” Because this kind of celebration is so inspirational and contagious, every time I step outside of my house I briefly pause to join them in the celebration. Yes, we did do it. We survived a rough season, a challenging leg of the race.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Aaahh.

Okay, now back to work.

Moving the Party Outdoors

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A Cat Story

She asked, “Are you coming outside or what?!”

I said, “Not until you do your tap dance routine.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

She said, “Fine, but not unless you get me my top hat and cane.”

So I did.  And then she did.

Then I said, “Ha ha, I was going to come outside whether you did the routine or not.”

Then she came inside and puked on the carpet.

I guess we’re even.

***

(Side Note: Are cats supposed to be this long?  When I look at this picture I can’t help but think Abby was playing a trick on me.  Like she persuaded Scout or a neighborhood cat to go in on the “Super Tall Cat” gag.  They rented a Giant Abby costume made from real fur and catskin.  Inside the costume the accomplice cat was on the bottom standing on its hind legs while Abby was sitting on its shoulders to convincingly look like the tallest domestic cat in the world.  I’m not sure if all of this was for laughs or attaining greater power over humans.  I am watching their moves very closely.)

If I’m being honest, when this photo was taken Abby wasn’t really eager for me to frolic outdoors with her.  She actually wanted me to let her inside.  Just like the second photo of Scout in this post – Scout isn’t really screaming; she’s yawning.  It’s okay though, they’ve both given consent for me to create whatever story I want with their photos.  Between the verbal consent and the fact that cats don’t recognize their own reflection or pictures of themselves, I figure I’m in the clear.

But there are parts of the Cat Story that are true.  For example, I am planning on spending more time outside.  In fact, I am going to fight every ounce of lethargy and overwhelmedness in my body and attempt to get back to triathlons.  After not racing for nearly two years, I am ready to start training for the Pittsburgh Triathlon in July.  Training this month will be a huge challenge since I still carry the weight of my comprehensive exams (due end of May/early June), but I’m hoping that making a public proclamation to compete in the Pittsburgh Triathlon will serve as one form of accountability to help that goal come to fruition.

Another aspect of the Cat Story that’s true – Abby can totally tap dance.

Dedicated to You, Mom

Okay, so I know there are still the extensions, the quarterly reports, and the back log from your ‘real’ job, but I hope you can still appreciate this little e-card I made for you. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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It will probably take your eyes a while to readjust to natural lighting after constantly being exposed to only desk lamps and fluorescent lighting for so long, but they’ll get there.  Even though you still have a full load on your plate, please, please allow yourself to fully recover with pedis and massages and walks and sleep and American Idol…or whatever.

Walker Road

February ended moments ago and if I’m going to keep up with what I’ve been doing then I need to find a new masthead for March, but before I do let me explain the current one, Walker Road.  A two-minute jog from my development, I have spent many, many hours on this road by foot, by bike, and by car.  It’s the by foot and by bike experiences that stir up a sense of nostalgia within me.  We live on the border of highly developed land and rolling country farm land.  Walker Road celebrates this close-to-country feel, so when I am out training here I love to breathe in the peaceful, simple air and enjoy the homes with yards that do not live under the rule of a developer.

I’ve even come to enjoy the company of the horse-like dog that chases me while bellowing a ferocious bark – well, that is, he chases me as far as he can on his side of the fence.  At first I was terrified by the beast, since I’ve been twice bitten by dogs, but now I pretend we’re friends, and in between breaths as I run or ride past I call to him in motherese, “Hi, Pup!  How’s my pup?  Gooood, puppy pup!”  I can tell this confuses him, like how could his prey seem so loving?  One day he will learn to jump the fence and will either eat my face or exfoliate it with a sloppy, friendly lick.  Every time I run by I wonder if today is the day I will find out if we’re friends or foes.  Mental note: start carrying steak in hydration belt.  And bear spray.

Like a no-nonsense friend, Walker Road is honest.  So brutally honest.  Without inhibition it will tell me what kind of shape I’m in, and its words have not always been kind.  There are portions of the road that are subtly hilly, and there are sections that are unmistakably steep.  The hill at the end of the road, for example, is so steep that on more than one bike ride I have pumped my weary legs at a pathetic 3.8 mph while trying to climb it.  This is so slow that my front wheel wobbles back and forth to keep me from falling over during the brief moments that I am actually motionless in between pedals.  Coming down this hill I have gained speeds over 35 mph, which is challenging in its own right.

There is a creepy stand-alone garage along the road in which I always imagine a serial killer resides, so as I run or ride by I scheme my survival, just in case I’m right.  When I hear rustling leaves on another stretch of the road I imagine a wild cat living in the woods and again I plan accordingly.  I usually moo at the couple of cows that seem very out of place in the yard of one home, and make up stories to explain why no one has ever been seen using the outdoor swimming pool at another.  The water in the ponds and little creeks looks refreshing albeit completely undrinkable.  The open fields and trees are rather simple, yet I can’t help but stare as I go past.

There’s a barn that stands against the road.  Not sure why I love it, and until I took a picture of it this past month I couldn’t even remember what color it was.  In my mind its walls are blank slates that change colors, like a mood ring varying by my emotional state.  Whatever color, the sun strikes the building perfectly and it somehow inspires me to endure or to smile or to pray or to set goals or to count my blessings.  I’m not necessarily a barn person, but have found raw, rousing beauty in this one.

Maybe that’s why I set Walker Road as the masthead for February.  February can be a doozy of a month.  It can be cold.  It can be gloomy.  But these pictures remind me that even during a hard run we can find things that inspire us to endure…to smile…to count our blessings.

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