Zombie flies beat biker butt

I’m failing as a parent.

I know, I know…every parent thinks that, but this time it’s for real!

So how, exactly, am I failing. Drugs? Porn? Grades in the tank? Nope.

My son won’t bike with me. *gasp*little mac bike path

His resistance started two years ago when he and his sister were 11 and 13. It was spring break and I’d loaded up the bikes and headed to the Duck Creek Bike Path in Bettendorf. We had a history, us three, of rolling along on the Clinton and Fulton-Thompson bike paths. I wanted to increase our two-wheeled sojourns and introduce them to new views.

It was the first ride of the year so I knew it’d be short, but around 2 miles, KidBoy started to derail. His butt hurt. Despite several breaks, we eventually had tears…and a very brief ride. It pretty much set the tone for the year.Mo on trainer

So last year, saddled with new bikes and high hopes, the butt pain and tears continued. Not with his sister, though. Except for a literal run-in with a fence, KidGirl’s a natural, even on the trainer.

The kids wear all the proper gear, we’ve adjusted saddle height, tilt, even added one of those BS cushioned seat covers. But it’s clear, KidBoy doesn’t want to ride and is holding on to any excuse. While Marty and I both believe it’s a “time in the saddle” issue, our son is unwilling to put in the time to get his duff toughened up.

Today was their last day of spring break and since KidGirl was hitting the links with Marty, I offered KidBoy the following: an hour of relaxed cruising or sweeping the attic and ShopVac’ing a winter’s worth of nasty-ass dead and undead flies.

He chose the flies. FLIES!!! An afternoon in a gross, web-filled attic with a bazillion zombie flies vs. a glorious spring day in the fresh country air…20160329_131814

Last winter he made the comment, “Just because you like fitness doesn’t mean I like fitness.” Was he pushing my buttons? Of course. But was there a nugget of truth? A glimpse into his personal teenage angst? Probably. So what do I do???

A day at a time, a derailleur at a time

For 15 years I’ve swore & cried & sweated to overcome the ever-present urge to numb myself. As one of my Bitches told me, “Reed, you feel BIG.”

My emotions have been (& probably always will be) of the Herculean variety. My joy is usually brighter than rainbow-farting leprechauns while my darkness can be the most blinding, frightening black. It’s scary for me to feel . . . but scarier not to.

March 3rd 2001 was a warm, sunny day I spent riding Frankenbike by myself. I was hung over, ashamed of who I’d become & scared shitless. The unpredictability that ruled my life had shifted from carefree & footloose to dangerous & foreboding. When my unpredictability changed from fun-loving to WTF, I knew I was out of time & choices: I had to change.

Over the course of 5,479 days that necessary change would involve so much more than not drinking. It would require only that I change how I saw everything. That’s it, just everything. And if everything would just stay how I see it at exactly that moment, it’d be easy peasy, but it changes, constantly, & it’s very easy for me to fall back on the old familiar: scary, big feelings that leaving me cowering in corners, hiding, or zipping up the gorilla suit & kicking ass. Neither option is all that great.

For example, today’s March 3rd? It was the end of my second week working as a NEWBIE bike mechanic & I had to build a Salsa El Mariachi. Um, ok? As I unpacked it, the only thing I had going for me was knowing I had to attach the rear derailleur to the hanger. It was a struggle. A head-down, sweaty, brain-scrambling schooling in hydraulic disc brakes, front shock airing & the further nuances of limit screws. It was a scary fucking day. Turns out clutches aren’t just for old tractors & farm trucks. I felt dumb, inept, out of place, inadequate, old & just plain awful. This is the stuff the thirsty little fucker who lies deep down inside me starts excitedly rubbing its hands over.

After the thousandth time of pulling Bobby, Bruce & Adam away from their own projects & even Dan away from his birthday day off, I caught myself thinking, “The jig is up, Homes, you don’t belong here.” That’s when I thought it might happen, when I felt a little tingle behind the eyes. (Big feelings, folks, I still don’t handle them well.) Of course my brain went ape shit: “You’re crying?! You’re the only chick in this bike shop and you’re gonnawpid-0617_ov_baseball_tom_hanks_no_crying_in_baseball cry?!!!” I didn’t. I wanted to. But I didn’t.

Thank gawd I’m not newly sober. Thank gawd I have coaches and cheerleaders who continually remind me how to take my life “a day at a time.” Thank gawd I didn’t start crying until after I’d left the bike shop, when I could talk with another sober person who understood exactly this kind of crazy & how to cut through the thick emotion & remind me, “Dude! It’s all good! You’re learning! You’re new! They didn’t fire you!” Um, yay?

I still want to run, take the easy way out & just hide. But I’ve done that. And it sucks. And every time I do it, it sucks worse! And I’m 45 & I simply lack the constitution for that level of suckage! So I’ll keep at it, just as I’ve been taught, a day at a time, a mile at a time, a derailleur at a time.

The angel on a snowy road

I keep running last night’s car accident over and over in my mind. My 12-year-old son and I walked away from it, but I can’t get the “would’ve, could’ve” scenario out of my head.

We were driving home from his basketball game and the late afternoon mist had turned to a light, snowy slush. Highway 30 was completely fine, but when I turned north from Calamus onto a paved, county road, the car slipped around the turn. Nothing terrible, just a slight skid, but it was enough to remind me to go the speed limit. In hindsight, even 55 was too fast for the conditions.

My son and I were talking about, of all things, dental hygiene as he dug into the stash of “flossers” I keep in my car’s center console. He’d use one, put it in the garbage and then seconds later, pull out another, complaining there was still something between his teeth. I told him to pull down the visor and check in the mirror, but when he did so, the mirror didn’t light up. And that’s when it happened.

Just as I was about to reach over and check if there was a switch on the mirror I felt the car drift into the slush in the middle of the empty road. I took my foot off the gas and applied the break. Feeling how hard we started sliding, I knew the car wasn’t coming out of this so I stopped breaking and tried to steer into the slide, hoping I could keep it on the road long enough to slow down.

When I felt us hit the left shoulder, the backend of the car whipped around and that’s when I threw my arm across my son’s chest and believed the car would  start rolling. I thought I told KidBoy, “Hang on,” or “Get ready,” but he said all I kept repeating was “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod” until we stopped. What I remember thinking was, “Please let him be ok. Please don’t let him get crunched. Please don’t let a fence post come through his window. Please! Please! Please!”

Melodramatic? Well, it’s been many years since I’ve been in a car accident, thankfully. During those events, the one thing I always remembered was worrying about myself, hoping I’d live, hoping I wouldn’t be injured. Until last night I’d never been in an accident with another person. Specifically, I’ve never been in an accident with my child. Last night, as the car spun out, sliding backwards down the 12-foot embankment and backending into a culvert before coming to rest at the edge of a field, my son was the only thing I thought about: “Let him be ok. Let him be ok. Let him be ok.” I don’t ever recall feeling so scared in my life, and none of that fear was for myself.

When the car stopped and I realized we were still rightside up, no windows broken, no dashboards crumpled, I asked and he verified that he was ok. EVERYTHING. WAS. OK. As we climbed out of our seats, I dialed my husband who was following with our daughter a couple miles behind us. And soon several vehicles were stopping to see if we needed help.

 We were both shaken up, of course, but we were fine. The car stayed firmly on its wheels, never launching off the road and down into the ditch. It was as if some force was pressing down on the car and keeping it right sided.

Once the tow truck and body shop were contacted, we gathered up our stuff and piled into my husband’s truck. And that’s when it hit me, when I realized where I’d crashed. Some people will think it’s weird, but I can’t ignore the coincidence: I crashed in the same area in which a dear friend was killed in a single car crash our senior year of high school.20160126_192219-1

Was Aaron with my son and I, keeping the car from rolling, making sure we slid backwards down the embankment and not nose diving headfirst into the culvert? I’m apt to think so. I keep remembering how firmly the car felt connected to the earth, how even in my seat, I felt pulled downward. I’m sure there are all sorts of scientific explanations for these sensations, but I’m no fool.

It’s been over 27 years since Aaron’s accident. Today, right now, I’m hearing my son up in his bedroom smack talk with friends over Skype while playing Minecraft. He’s groaning and yelling and giggling and sounding absolutely beautiful. I’m not a religious person, but I believe in the unexplainable. Was there some force, some being, an angel with us on that road last night? In my heart, I know he was . . . thank you Aaron.

The It in losing my shit

I never know when it’s going to happen, but when it does? Look out.

What’s the It? The It is “losing my shit.”

It’s probably been building for a few weeks given the b.s. time of year. What time of year, winter? When the decreased sunlight depletes my Vitamin D resources and leaves me susceptible to Seasonal Affect Disorder?

No, I’m talking the time of year that seems to happen every damn January when I show up at the Y at my normal time and suddenly have to park 3 miles away because of everyone’s bullshit New Year’s resolutions;

The time of year when you have to show up a half hour early to Body Pump to be sure you get a bar and aren’t stuck in the front row six inches away from the instructor;

That time of year when Dan Marino, Marie Osmond and now fuckin’ Oprah Winfrey are peddling weight loss deals and I’m supposed to be cleansing, eating clean and counting my calories. Fuck that shit. Fuck all that shit. Hand me the Doritos.

But this is all normal, right? This certainly isn’t the IT that made me lose my shit, right? Right. My tipping point came cloaked in fur: cats and dogs, folks. Cats and dogs. Mainly dogs, but the cats played a role, too.

Without getting into the dirty deets, a couple weeks ago we volunteered to foster a female dachshund. She arrived in our care a little distressed, a little malnourished, a little wigged out. We’ve tried to keep our door open to animals in need, but I gotta be honest. At my core I am a cat person. Dogs are too needy. And this little weiner dog definitely needed love. Lots of love. (And let’s just say two of the three house cats are p-i-s-s-e-d over this entire situation.)

Sure there are the accidents one must attend to, but the shit started getting lost last night when my husband treated our refugee with some gnarly smelling herbal flea treatment that stunk up the house. Upon realizing the stench, he promptly gave her a bath, but once that smell got in my nose, she may as well have been sprayed by a skunk. The stench stuck. And it was bedtime. And she’s taken to sleeping in our bed.

Despite my husband’s attempt to lure her into our son’s bed, she knows where Menopausal Mom sleeps. And so, after my husband fell into an unconscious sleep, sure as shit “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap” go the wee little toe nails as our stinky refugee skips across the hall and into our bedroom. She scampered, “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap,” from one side of the bed to the other, whining for someone to pick her up so she can nose her way under the covers and snuggle down.

This still isn’t the It. The It would happen eight hours later after I’d finally fallen nose blind and asleep after an awful night of stink-induced insomnia. And I’d woken to the “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap” and whining of a cold refugee because my husband had taken her was downstairs when he woke and promptly forgot about her whilst enjoying his coffee and morning computer time.

This is the It: I storm downstairs only to find puddles of pee. Dog pee on the floor next to a clean pile of unfolded laundry and cat pee on the counter . . . right. next to. the fucking coffee pot.

*sigh* Happy Monday, folks.

Shall I bring the tigers?

What a week…sandwiched between a childhood friend’s mom dying Monday and a coffee club member suddenly dying Thursday, a badass buddy learned he has cancer….everywhere. What the fuck?

So last night, with Marty working late, I made both kids sit and watch a movie with me. The kids were grumpy because I refused to let them squirrel away in their rooms. I was just sad.

We considered “Elf,” decided on “The Book of Life,” but when the DVD player crapped out we were left with “Grown Ups 2” airing on the FX channel. By the time the credits rolled, we were all headed to our respective beds, barely able to muster a begrudged ‘night. (“Good work team! Yaaaay FAMILY!”)

I woke early to work out, then drank a big cuppa NOPE and promptly returned to bed. And that’s when shit got weird.

First, I dreamt my badass buddy and I were at a baseball stadium talking about his shitty news. He wanted his services held there with The Nadas playing. As we talked, we casually watched two large, puffy, drooling Bengal tigers playfully maul people in nearby seats. As we watched, he asked, “Reed, will you bring the tigers?”

I must’ve stirred because that dream promptly ended and a second, more disturbing dream set in. It was sweaty and dirty, took place on a golf course and involved
image
running hydration belts and Petzl headlamps. Apparently it’s what happens when I watch artists like Peaches on a belly full of Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Nick Swardson, and then skip out on an early morning run.

In light of all that, bringing the Bengal tigers to a stadium service for a badass? Consider it done.

Why I believe in Yesterday

When all else fails, count your gratefuls. At least that’s what I’m told.

So what’s mine? Yesterday.

My Oct. 29th post resonated with a few of you. Your words of encouragement were unexpected and more than lovely, they were loving. For that love, I thank you. Normally I view myself as strong, self-assured and focused. But a skittering, nervousness descended when I read the responses to my admission of the broken relationship I have with food and my body.

And then last week — a peach of a week — came to be. One friend died from the effects of alcoholism, another was diagnosed with cancer while a third spent the week at the Mayo Clinic . . . and there I sat, hazy, directionless and obsessing about the dregs of the candy bowl. Surely Milky Way minis were not the answer.12194708_968937209840613_1809651746297937671_o

I hoped the weekend would be better. One of my favorite cousins would wed his bride and the morning of the nuptials I’d run the Galena Lead Rush Half Marathon with two of my close girlfriends! But then my son KidBoy got sick. And then during the early miles of the race I realized I was sick! My stomach began to ache, my head swim, sweat rained off the bill of my ball cap. Despite my pleas for the girls to go on without me, they refused, consoling me that it was probably due to the difficult week.

I hated hearing this. I wasn’t the one with the difficult week. My world was still the same, relatively, while my friends and their families? Their worlds spiraled into deeper unknowns. Me? I was schlepping the hills around Galena.

But there was the wedding, right? A time for fun and celebration? Nope! KidBoy and I were out. We tried to make the reception, but while talking with a guest, sweat started streaming from my scalp down the sides of my face and dripping off my chin. It was pretty sexy . . . and clear neither KidBoy nor I should be there.

Sunday? Was Sunday any better? Nope! Filled with toxic eye candy as KidBoy and I watched “The Shining” and The Walking Dead. As a simple horror movie, neither of us found “The Shining” scary, but as Stephen King explained in a 2013 NPR interview, “The Shining” is what happens when an alcoholic stops drinking and doesn’t get help. Whhhat?!!! That’s flippin’ nuts! There really is something to the idea what you read, watch, hear is mood effecting.

My guard was down and my ego decided “Game On!” By Monday morning I felt physically better, managing a double workout at the Y, but mentally? I was screwed. I couldn’t get “The Shining” out of my head. I kept putting myself in the Overlook Hotel and in the shoes of Jack Torrence. My early sobriety was pretty ugly, but at about four months sober, I experienced a 24-hour period of complete insanity, a period when the Monster came to visit my 1-year-old daughter. I was never physically violent with her, but at my darkest hour, I was the screaming, raging Jack swinging an axe. “Hereeee’s Jenny!”

I try to keep my memory of the Monster caged within the context that it was what brought about my complete surrender. Still, it makes my skin crawl. I don’t often let myself go there. But there I was, stuck in my car driving home from the Y remembering my darkest time, and I realize I’m in an absolute shit storm! I completely started to freak out. I phoned my husband who tried to calm me with soothing, supportive words. But I was still feeling Looney Tunes so I called my cousin Amanda who came at me with a disbelieving “Jenny! What the hell?! You’re not that person anymore!!!”

It was just the clobbering I needed. With a strength that cut through all the emotional bullshit in which I was caught, Amanda jolted me into 2015 where I’m fairly sane, reasonably whole and 99 percent not the Monster. And that’s when I could breathe again. That’s when I could be thankful. That’s when I started looking for ways to help my friends and family and get off that gross pity pot!

And just like Paul McCartney so soothingly croons, “Yesterday . . . all my troubles seemed so far away,” Monday passed and Yesterday came forth with a joyful sound, that of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats performing “I Need Never Get Old” on Monday night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. BOOM!

And with that beautiful R&B pounding in my head, I spent the morning with my three-year-old niece, giving my sister who’s eight months pregnant, a chance to rest . . .12240904_10153360082553802_3231320938977393395_o

Suffering serious Cuteness Burn, my day could’ve ended then. But there was more! I spent the evening with girlfriends discussing the rationality of juicing 25 pounds of carrots a week! Carrots? Really? Actually it was our chance to circle the wagons around our beautiful Shelly, reminding her she is not facing cancer alone, but with an army. That we shall be her ears in which to scream and her pressure valve from which to release frustration, disbelief and fear. We shall be her peanut gallery, her cheerleaders and, if the carrots turn her orange, we shall laugh at her and call her “Pumpkin.”

All this is why I believe in Yesterday.

Reed All About It returns. . .again

In the eight months since I left my Saturday post as a newspaper columnist for The Observer in DeWitt, Iowa, I’ve floundered. I’m not a perfect candidate for structured 8-5 work, but I’m TERRIBLE at self-employment. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s brain chemicals, but within six weeks of leaving the paper, I wasn’t writing and I was in trouble.

Who knew writing (or not writing) would foster such pain. My trouble was in the mental department. See, my Saturday gig for the paper was a simple little column about whatever was going on during that week of my life. And I quit, abruptly. Mind you I have no regrets about leaving the paper. New ownership was taking it in an uncomfortable direction. My family was supportive, but I had no game plan. It was a classic case of “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Today's writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.
Today’s writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.

When I left the paper in February, I was in the midst of what I preferred to call rigorous “brain training,” forcing disciplining myself to put healthier foods and liquids in my body. Ignorant of the brain’s power, once I stopped writing, much of my rational, healthy thinking stopped as well.

I found myself binging, sometimes on junk food, but usually on rice cakes and crackers, then crouching over a toilet, vomiting. Too real? My apologies. I wish I could clean it up and make it sound better. I can’t. Physically my body had never felt stronger. I was training for a full summer of racing which included two half Ironman events. I was swimming and biking, running, planking and lifting weights. But I couldn’t swim, bike, run or lift enough to keep my mind quiet. And I wasn’t writing.

Without the writing, I wasn’t going inward. I wasn’t listening for that “still, small voice.” Rather, I was keeping everything on the surface, “controllable,” noting every good calorie and bad gram of fat, every good swim and every bad run. And when I’d look at myself, all I saw was failure and obesity. I couldn’t see the strength and the power. I only saw rigid food rules and an inability to work hard enough. No matter how much I ate, it wasn’t enough. No matter how far I ran, it wasn’t enough. No matter how heavy I lifted or how long I held a plank, it was never enough. But the purging? As crazy as it sounds, I’d feel so good after doing it. And yet I also knew the brief reprieve vomiting gave me was a complete and utter delusion.

I started dropping little hints about the darkness to a couple of friends, only in texts, never in person. By March I was scared I’d reached a point where I had to binge and purge. I wanted to be strong and healthy! I didn’t want to be chained to the terrible pattern of overeating and vomiting! And that’s when I found myself telling one of my sisters. It wasn’t planned. I had every intention of keeping it a secret, but I told on myself and got involved with a therapist.

Since March I haven’t made myself sick, but I’ve wanted to. When I shove awful junk food in my mouth, at the time it’s as if I go mindless and am watching myself, knowing I shouldn’t be eating, but unable to stop. And then when I’m done? When the reality of what I just ate sinks in? I want it OUT so badly. Take today, for example! My lunch? I ate a bunch of Halloween candy and a full canister of Pringles. What the hell?!!!!!! I had a great 6 mile run this morning as well as a session with my therapist and yet it’s taking everything in me not to give up and just walk to the bathroom. First world problems . . .

Obviously I’m not better and there’s so many things tangled in this knot! Just this morning I listened to the 26 October 2015 interview of Gloria Steinem by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air and how Steinem, a self-proclaimed ‘foodaholic’, at age 81 still can’t have certain foods in her house. So will I ever get better? Will I ever be cured? Doubtful. Gross quoted Steinem’s own words to her, “I’m a fat woman who’s not fat at the moment.” In the interview, Steinem admits, “I’m still a sugar junkie. I still find it very difficult. I can’t keep certain kinds of food in the house because they talk to me . . . I cannot keep ice cream or bread or anything too rewarding in the house.”

How depressing. I crave balance almost as much as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But if it were just about the Reese’s or the Pringles or the bread, the solution would be simple: don’t eat it. Just like with alcoholism, right? Don’t drink and life gets better, right? Wrong. In 2001 when I quit drinking, my life got worse until I had no fight left, until I was beat up enough to start listening for that “still, small voice,” until I could hear what people were trying to teach me. I suppose my food issue is no different. Fuck.

So I guess that’s it? I’m not making myself vomit, but I’m still binging? If I can frame my food issue in the context of drinking, it’s possible for me to have hope. If I keep working at it, I’ll get better, right? Hopefully. Hopefully I’ll gain a stronger, healthier sense of self. And I guess to some degree that’s already begun. I can’t see my day-to-day growth, but when I look back at where I was in March, you bet your ass I’m in a much better place. And most importantly, I’m writing again.

. . . whew! What a heavy way to restart “Reed All About It,” eh? If prior readers know anything about me, it’s that I’ll always be real. Who knows what future posts will bring, but I will never offer fakery . . . so please come back, and thank you.

Journeying to a healthier ‘bass’


The other day I saw a video clip of a horse in his stall, bobbing his head to the Meghan Trainor song, “All About That Bass.” Aside from the humorous aspect of seeing horses, like humans, enjoy a fun, funky beat, the song lyrics speak to the weird obsession our American culture has with size.

“I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop.
We know that s*#t ain’t real, come on now, make it stop.
If you got beauty beauty just raise ‘em up ‘cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size.
She says, boys like a little more booty to hold at night.
You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll.
So, if that’s what you’re into than go ahead and move along.
Because you know I’m all about that bass ‘bout that bass, no treble.”

The song was released last summer and was an instant hit. While Trainor, the singer, was lauded for its message, it’s a sad reflection on the qualities our culture holds dear.

brrry scurry 2015Our culture has an extremely weird view of body image. I have a dear friend who lives with a disease that’s ravaged her body down to a size two. At her most unhealthy, I had another friend tell me how fabulous she looked. Knowing she wasn’t even capable of taking a daily walk, I was aghast.

And then there’s the flip side, enabling obesity. Given how much goes into the obesity issue: poverty, genetics, lifestyle, healthcare, etc., it’s no surprise that a large chunk (forgive the pun) of our nation is heading toward the blubber-esque future depicted on the spaceship in the 2008 movie “WALL-E” in which humans simply sat in hover chairs and motored around.

Mixed into this psychosis is the anti-aging business: Botex, tummy tucks, neck lifts and all sorts of breast enhancements.

Just last week there was the un-retouched photo of Cindy Crawford in which she’s rocking sexy lingerie despite a wrinkly, fleshy belly.

The responses were as varied as our craziness: there were many who supported the photo for its “realness,” others said it was re-touched to amplify the flaws, while still others lambasted people for praising Crawford’s aging body in an effort to make themselves feel better about their own aging, flawed bodies.

I can’t be the only one who sees this madness for what it is!

Personally? I’m not one to obsess too much about my looks. My sisters would prefer I learn to accessorize, but really, what goes better with jeans and a race shirt than tennis shoes and a hoodie?! I’ll admit, I color my hair, but make-up? Ugh.
That’s not to say I judge others for rocking the latest infinity scarf and never leaving the house without lipstick. I’m actually quite jealous. Just last week I told a sister, “You need to take me shopping. Teach me!”

But looks are not really my thing. Performance, I guess, is what pushes me to try to eat healthy, count my calories, pump the iron and pound the pavement.

A year ago, I gave full disclosure of my physical progress toward a stronger, healthier body. Here’s a comparison, in pounds and inches between then and the last time I was weighed and measured…

Feb. 10, 2014                 vs                Jan. 28, 2015
Lbs-175.8                                          Lbs-162.2 (down 13.6)
Neck-14.75                                       Neck-13.5 (down 1.25)
Chest-41                                          Chest-40.5 (down .5)
Waist-38                                          Waist-35 (down 3)
Hips-42                                            Hips-38 (down 4)
Thighs-23                                        Thighs-22 (down 1)
Arms-12                                           Arms-No change
Body Fat-38%                                  Body Fat-29.2% (down 8.8)

With an overall loss of 13.6 pounds, 9.75 inches and 8.8 percentage points, I’m making some real progress. Especially considering my eating during much of the last year was pretty crazy. It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve refocused my efforts.

As I’ve written before, I can’t exercise my way to a healthier body, I MUST be mindful of what’s going in my mouth. I don’t pay much attention to popular fads like Atkins and Paleo because of my person needs. Given the year-round triathlon training I do, I get the majority of my calories from carbohydrates, followed by proteins with the least amount in fat.

That said, I LOVE FAT! Specifically? Movie popcorn with extra butter (mixed throughout, if you wouldn’t mind).

But seriously, I put this information out there in an effort to stop with the fat shaming, the anorexia adoration, the Barbie doll idolatry and the desire for quick fixes. Change that comes quickly rarely stays. And change without a deeply personal idea of what that change will look and feel like, unfortunately, will never happen. We have to do the work, day in and day out, repeatedly.

So what’s my change look like? For 2015, a little more rational than last year. Just one ultra, one full marathon and two 70.3 Ironman events with lots of little stuff sprinkled throughout.


Originally published 21 February 2015 in The Observer.

Pup sparks recall of baby’s 1st year


It was just a week ago when I first saw a picture of “Champ.” Two-toned black and white coat. Two tiny bottom teeth mere buds in his gum line. His pink nose and top lip split in two, the result of a common birth defect in Boxers and other dogs with “smushed” faces. Champ was born with a cleft lip and palate, and the memories flooded back.

Solo Champ 1Marty and my first child, daughter Moira, was born with a cleft lip and palate. I didn’t know it happened in other species. And yet, why wouldn’t it?

In the two weeks before Moira was born, we learned as much as we could about clefts: how they developed, how they’re corrected, what else was wrong, what we could do.

Whether human or puppy, the head grows in such a fascinating way. The face basically starts at the base of the skull with two mirror-like sections on each side growing up and forward. Each section reflecting the other as it grows, the flesh wraps around the top and sides of the skull before finally coming together at the nose and mouth.

Our septums and that indent in the middle of our top lips? They’re like biological seams, evidence in flesh of our fetal experience. This basic blueprint for the face, as explained to Marty and I, was usually in place before most people even learn they’re pregnant, about midway through the first trimester.

~But clefts can be startling and scary. Startling simply because they look unnatural, a wee little face unfinished. And that’s basically what they are, as cells divide and flesh meets and grows together, a cell gets dropped or lost, leaving the lip or the palate or both, open. All the material is there, but at the very end of the process, it just didn’t come together.

The scary part is in the survival. Kids (and puppies) with clefts have a terrible time eating. Robbed of the ability to suck, nursing is often unsuccessful. Moira was fed with a soft-side bottle that we’d squeeze to the rhythm of her gnawing. I had reams of yellow legal pads documenting her nourishment by the ounce, by the hour. We kept a hospital-grade baby scale handy, measuring her losses and gains.

~I don’t like thinking back on this. It was a heart wrenching time. All I wanted was to comfort and cuddle my child and yet every feeding was choked by the worried thought, “How much would she eat this time?”

At death’s door, Champ is given a chance

~When I met with Champ’s foster mom, Tara Hansen of Miles who is also a vet technician at DeWitt Veterinary Clinic, she exhibited many of the same emotions I did nearly 15 years ago. Almost steely, I could feel her push aside the fear that comes with caring for a child with a cleft and focus on the task at hand, Champ’s survival.

Champ was two days old when he arrived at the vet clinic. Tara has a friend who breeds German Boxers and when his latest litter was born Jan. 18, one had a severe cleft palate. Two days later, unable to nurse, the pup was brought to Tara at the clinic to be euthanized.

Tara is not your average animal lover. She and her family have fostered countless animals in the past, but it’s the Boxer breed of dogs that is her calling. She and her family have two at home, six-month-old Lola and six-year-old Lucy. Just last fall, her eight-year-old Boxer Layla died from cancer of the blood vessels. “Now that she’s gone, I feel like I have to carry on caring for the breed.”

That’s what drove her to ask Champ’s owner if she could try to save him. “I knew the survival rate was low,” she said, “but I had to give it a whirl.”

~A brief attempt was made at bottle feeding Champ, but the cleft in his palate is so wide, the risk of aspiration was too high. “He’s turned blue on me. Several times,” she said.

So began the process of tube feedings every two hours in which Tara passes a feeding tube down Champ’s throat and into his stomach . . . every two hours. That means where ever Tara goes, Champ goes, too.

But it’s not all bad, with a four-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, Tara’s kids have relished the tiny baby. And the furry kids, how have they reacted? While the older Lucy doesn’t pay much attention, six-month-old Lucy may be a puppy herself, but has taken to mothering Champ like a pro. Even the family’s 15-year-old cat has proved vital, filling in on nap and cuddle duties when Lucy or the kids need a break.

~As she would with any other puppy, Tara started Champ on regular puppy formula, but after the first several days of slow, but steady gains he reached a point in which the formula wasn’t enough, “he was just stuck at 22 ounces. He wasn’t gaining and he wasn’t losing.”

After searching various website dedicated to the care of puppies with clefts, she learned goat’s milk could help boost a pup’s growth. And it has. For the past week, she’s been feeding Champ a half and half mix of puppy formula and goat’s milk. When I met him, Champ’s eyes had just opened and he was learning how to use his legs under that large, heavy head of his, bobbing all around.

While Tara loves to see him doing so well, she admits the feedings are growing increasingly more difficult: Champ can no see the tube coming and wants to fight it and chew on it.

~Monday Tara and Champ head to Ames and the veterinary college at Iowa State University for a surgery consultation in which she hopes a feeding port can be put in Champ’s stomach until he’s healed from the oral surgeries.

Tara was told medical costs could run as high as $3,000 so she set up a Go Fund Me account to collect donations.

Many people have asked Tara if she’s keeping Champ or, more commonly, can they adopt him. More than Champ’s foster mom, Tara sees herself as his protector. While there are many who’d love to adopt him, she has found Champ’s forever home in the arms of a local couple. After he heals from his surgeries, Champ’s new family will train him as a therapy dog for their chiropractic clinic!


Originally published 7 February 2015 in The Observer.

Champ loses battle for life


Last Saturday I told you about Tara Hansen, a veterinary technician at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic who had taken on the role of foster mom and caregiver for a Boxer puppy born with a cleft lip and palate.

Monday night, sitting on the couch with my husband who was looking at his phone, I heard him groan, “Oh no…”

~Tara & Champ 2Looking at his Facebook feed, he merely turned his phone to me, showing me the following message posted to the Boxer Champ community page:

“It is with a very heavy heart to have to type this update . . . (definitely) not an update I ever thought of writing. Champ passed away in my arms tonight. I fought for him until the very end attempting CPR, but it was too late. His little body couldn’t fight any more.”

Marty was stunned. I was in disbelief. And when I told daughter Moira, she bent her head to hide her tears.

Neither Marty nor Moira had the pleasure of meeting Champ. In fact, most of his fans never got the opportunity to stroke his sweet little cheeks or shake one of his cute, tiny paws. But he had a huge fan club to be sure.

None of us would’ve learned of this sweet little puppy had Tara not answered the call of her heart, a call that whispered, “Give him a chance. Try,” when he was brought to the clinic to be euthanized.

Tara is the quintessential animal lover, truly going to any lengths necessary to help an animal in need. Whether it’s to bottle-feed an abandoned litter of newborn kittens, find a new “forever family” to adopt a homeless dog, or, as she did with Champ, devote herself morning and night to the survival of a struggling animal who needed a shot at life.

I know plenty of people who roll their eyes at those of us who connect with other beings covered in fur (or scales or feathers). They mutter thoughtless things like, “It’s just a dog.” So I’m sure there are a few readers wondering why I give so much attention to animals. Simple, each animal, each creature (yes, even spiders) are a living, breathing being that has purpose. Often times, we’ll never know their purpose.

When I talked with Tara the day after Champ passed, she admitted she wasn’t completely shocked that he died because he was exhibiting a few troubling symptoms indicating he was struggling.

“But at the same time, I was upset. I still am.”

Tara reviewed the symptoms with me, saying that at 7 a.m. Sunday, after Champ’s morning tube feeding, she saw him start to gag and struggle. He was open-mouth breathing and turning white. Taking an infant bulb syringe, she did an emergency suction on Champ and discovered copious amount of mucus had coagulated in the back of his throat.

Hearing this took me back nearly 15 years to Moira’s first five months, before any surgeries started to correct her cleft, when her breathing would rattle when mucus clogged the back of her throat. Marty and I grew quite adept with the bulb syringe. Fortunately for us, that usually relieved Moira’s woes and she’d return to easy breathing.

With Champ, however, Tara could tell things weren’t right and she feared pneumonia could be setting in. After clearing the mucus from Champ’s throat, she then took him to the bathroom and started a hot shower so the steam could enter his lungs and loosen any remaining mucus. While it seemed to help, later that day she gave him a nebulizing treatment for safe measure.

The following morning, Monday Feb. 9, Tara woke to give Champ his breakfast and found him in his kennel. “He wouldn’t stand up and he had blood all over the side of his face.”

After Tara cleaned and then fed him, “he perked right up,” she said.

Once he was stable, she and a friend loaded him in the car and made the three-hour drive to Ames where they met with doctors at Iowa State University’s veterinary college.

Tara explained what had been happening over the last 24-hours and while doctors initially guessed the blood may have been caused by irritation to the throat from the tube feedings or sneezing that may have caused Champ to bite his lip, chest films were taken.

“I was sure he had pneumonia,” Tara said. While the films didn’t indicate pneumonia there were a few small spots doctors couldn’t explain. “I wonder if it was some blood clots,” she said.

While in Ames, doctors mapped out a progression of surgeries and had tabled the idea of a feeding port due to Champ’s fast growth rate. His first surgery was slated for next month.

Returning home, Champ was tired and Monday evening, after a feeding “he fell asleep,” Tara recalled. “Then all of a sudden he woke up and threw his head back.”

Tara immediately suctioned Champ, “I ended up getting a whole bunch of blood out of there.” Then his heart stopped. “I started doing chest compressions and by then he was doing agonal (spastic, labored) breathing.”

Despite her efforts, Champ died.

Having raised nearly $2,000 in donations for Champ’s medical costs, Tara wants all the money returned. Many of her donors, in thanking Tara for her compassion and hard work, wanted her to keep the money as compensation. She refused, “It was something I never wanted to pocket the money from or be paid for.”

Instead, Tara is suggesting donating in Champ’s memory, either to an animal shelter or the “Care for Cleo” fund at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic, which covers costs associated with helping stray and unwanted animals.

Writing on the Boxer Champ Facebook page Wednesday, Tara wrote that despite the heartbreak of losing Champ, she will continue her work.

“In three short weeks I was able to watch this little guy open his eyes, struggle to take his first steps and see him find his little voice. In three short weeks my heart was wrapped up in his pudgy little Boxer body. I will continue on and do whatever I can for animals, this will not detour me from doing what I feel is right. . .

“. . . If (we) humans could take a few lessons from animals, our world would be a much happier and loving place to be!”

RIP Champ. . .


Originally published 14 February 2015 in The Observer.